3: Eagan rolls in three sets to set up 3A title defense
By JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune, 11/10/17, 10:30AM CST
The Wildcats, seemingly getting better as the match went along, swept Prior Lake in the semifinals.
Olivia Masso (22) of Eagan digs the ball in the Wildcats' match against Prior Lake on Friday. Photo: LEILA NAVIDI • firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo gallery: Class 3A semifinal matches
Now in the midst of their fifth consecutive trip to the Class 3A state tournament, the Eagan players still admit to getting nervous before tournament games.
The way they played Friday in a 25-19, 25-15, 25-11 victory over Prior Lake in the 3A semifinals at Xcel Energy Center, it’s fair to assume those nerves didn’t last long.
“We had a lot of nerves in the first set, but we calmed down in the second and third set,” senior outside hitter McKenna Melville said. “We started putting a lot more pressure on them. We played very well together.”
A big part of Eagan’s strength is its depth. Where most teams have one or two key offensive players, the Wildcats can attack effectively with as many as five players. It’s volleyball’s version of Whack-A-Mole – defend one and another pops up on the other side of the court.
“Balance is our advantage over other teams,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. “We have so many hitters who can score.”
That depth makes it easy for the Eagan setters to spread the ball around. Any decision made winds up as a quality attack. Freshman setter Kennedi Orr wound up with 19 set assists while junior setter Kelly Johnson added 14.
“It’s kind of a setter’s dream,” Gillen said. “She can go anywhere.”
Melville was the main beneficiary of the Eagan offense, racking up 16 kills. Orr, who doubles as an imposing attacker when she’s not setting, added 9 kills and 6-2 junior middle hitter Ellie Husemann added 8. As a team, Eagan posted a whopping .368 attack percentage.
It all added up to a dominant effort by the Wildcats, who earned a chance to play for their third straight state championship and fourth in the last five years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Melville said. “When you get on these rolls, it’s really fun to see the ball go over the net. We’re flowing so well.”
In the latest Talking Preps podcast, staff writers David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen ruminate about a memorable championship Saturday of volleyball, football semifinal match-ups at U.S. Bank Stadium and the start of two anniversary seasons of hockey.