The volleyball team from Tracy-Milroy-Balaton didn’t win a state championship Saturday, but the Panthers stayed together and worked together to the very end. And that’s important.
The Panthers, making their school’s first trip to the state volleyball tourney in a decade, lost to Bethlehem Academy 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 in the Class 1A championship match at Xcel Energy Center. There was certainly no shame in being defeated by the Cardinals, who also beat Eagan (state runner-up in Class 3A), Marshall and Stewartville (who played for the 2A state title) and Belle Plaine (third place in 2A) this season.
All told, Bethlehem Academy had eight regular-season matches against teams that went to state, and the Cardinals won seven of them. Saturday’s title was the Cardinals’ seventh since 2003.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s postseason run of six victories before Saturday began with a box of sticks. The kind of sticks you’d find on a small tree; maybe a quarter of an inch thick and a foot or so long. Coach Katie Gervais brought a cardboard box filled with sticks to a team meeting and asked each player to take a stick.
“We each got one stick and she told us to break them in half,” said junior Sara Stoneberg. “We put one piece on the ground, and with the other stick we passed it on and kept passing them.”
Before long the Panthers had a big bundle of sticks. Each member of the coaching staff tied a small piece of rope around the bundle, and now they had something special.
“Coach said to the last person who was holding onto the sticks: 'Break those sticks with your hands.' She tried to break all 12 sticks with her hands and she couldn’t do it,” sophomore Gabbie Gervais said. “We said that’s how our team is going to be. If one person breaks, the other people are going to take care of her; a stick isn’t going to fall out of the bundle. Even if one breaks, they’re still going to stay together. They’re unbreakable.”
Players also carried laminated cards that carried a drawing of the bundle of sticks and the words “Unity is Strength.”
As Sara explained, “We said that unity is strength and nothing can break a team if we’re all together.”
--Bethlehem Academy senior Payton Schultz has now played on four state championship teams and sophomore Payton Nutter has won three state titles.
--This was a hectic season for Belle Plaine. Coach Cassie Koch was absent for two weeks in October for the birth of her first child and sophomore outside hitter Mariena Hayden was sidelined with a back injury and missed all of August and September.
STATE VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT
Chaska beat Eagan 25-17, 25-19, 25-21.
Eden Prairie beat Roseville 25-15, 25-22, 25-18
Champlin Park beat Rochester Mayo 25-17, 25-17, 25-21
Stewartville beat Marshall 25-23, 27-29, 23-25, 25-19, 15-5
Belle Plaine beat Maple Lake 20-25, 25-15, 19-25, 25-19, 15-13
Rocori beat Concordia Academy-Roseville 16-25, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18
Bethlehem Academy beat Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 25-15, 25-21, 25-20
Martin County West beat Mayer Lutheran 25-19, 21-25, 25-22, 25-13
Ada-Borup beat Browerville 17-25, 26-24, 25-11, 25-17
CLASS 1A/ Miki Lee, Ada-Borup; Hailey Leiding, Molly Klima; Martin County West; Maria Kuntz, Mayer Lutheran; Anna Peterson, Sammie Gervais, Sydney Lanoue, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton; Payton Schultz, Payton Nutter, Lauren Mathews, Bethlehem Academy.
CLASS 2A/ Eleanor Holthaus, Rocori; Linsey Rachel, Maple Lake; Dakotah Poitra, Mariena Hayden, Belle Plaine; Marissa Behrens, Jenna Willenborg, Jackie Bleifus, Stewartville; Abby Louwagie, Callie Graff, Marah Mulso, Marshall.
CLASS 3A/ Sydney Hilley, Champlin Park; Monica Burich, Roseville; Abby Ihrke, Elizabeth Mohr, Eden Prairie; Erin Schindler, Sarah Kelly, Makayla Wenzel, Chaska; Brie Orr, Callie Schapekahm, Alyssa Doucette, Eagan.
--To see photo galleries from the state volleyball tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
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