The Minnesota state volleyball tournament is taking place at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul this week. (Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune)
The last time Mayer Lutheran’s volleyball team was at the state tournament, it fell in five sets in the 2018 quarterfinals as a No. 2 seed. After Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinal match, Lilly Wachholz remembered those sad feelings walking into that postgame news conference.
“She said, ‘Last time we did it, we were crying and sad,’ ” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “So we’re not going to repeat that this year. So far, so good.”
This year’s No. 1-ranked Crusaders had a reason to be all smiles and no tears after their 25-4, 25-10, 25-16 sweep over unseeded South Ridge. Mayer Lutheran got off to such a fast start that it rattled off a dozen consecutive points before South Ridge got on the board.
Wachholz, a senior middle hitter, led the way with seven kills to add to her team-leading total of 344 this season, though the Crusaders spread the wealth and got 34 kills from 11 different players.
The Crusaders (30-2) are in search of their fourth state title in their 15th appearance.
South Ridge (21-7) made its state tournament debut. Coach Brad Olesiak and setter Isabella Schneider both used the word “shocked” to describe the match against their tough opponent.
“We don’t face many teams like that up north,” Olesiak said. “It’s tough when you can’t match up with their height and their athleticism.”
Bethlehem Academy took an early lead before rattling off a 12-3 run to finish the first set against Breckenridge. That momentum ended with a three-set sweep 25-12, 25-15, 25-14. It was all part of a well-executed, well-scouted plan.
“We study teams a lot,” Cardinals coach Chris Bothun said. “We knew who their big hitters were. We worked on our block a lot last week. We also knew where the holes were in their defense.”
The Cardinals focused on tipping and executing their block well, along with getting powerful kills from junior Kate Trump (15 in the match) and senior Ellie Cohen (16) to run away with the second set.
Bethlehem Academy (21-11) has a state-record-tying seven state titles, the last in 2014.
This is the fifth state tournament appearance overall for Breckenridge (29-3) but first in 41 years; it finished as the Class 1A runner-up in 1980.
Seniors Natalee Rolbiecki and Abby Frie each notched 17 kills to help No. 2-rated Minneota to a 25-15, 25-13, 25-11 victory.
Minneota had a bit of a different rotation in the match, while resting senior setter McKenna Yost, who took a tumble at Wednesday’s practice but should be fine to play in the semifinals, according to coach Hayley Fruin. That created opportunities for younger players like sophomore defensive specialist Grace Hennen and freshman middle blocker Elivia Faris.
“I think that all of us stepped up,” Rolbiecki said. “And our ball control and our passing was good, so that made it easier for everyone to run the offense.”
Minneota (30-4) makes its 14th appearance at state having won the last two state tournaments held (2018 and 2019).
Junior setter Cassie Dahl led the Gators (29-4) in their state tournament debut with 24 set assists and four digs.
In its first state appearance, third-seeded Legacy Christian was upset in three sets by Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 25-21, 25-22, 25-18.
Senior Allyson Sea had 10 kills and 23 digs to help the Wolves (29-5) advance.
“I think we definitely knew that we were the underdogs, but being the underdogs didn’t stop us by how we played our game,” Sea said.
Legacy Christian (24-7) couldn’t get away from its errors. They made 29 in the match compared to only 20 for the Wolves.