The state volleyball tournament, like all such events, can be a blur of games and whistles and boisterious fans and bands and overtimes and winning and losing. The volleyball tournament, which concluded its three-day run at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night, fit the mold perfectly. There were tremendous athletes on display, superior teamwork and strategy as six chess pieces moved around the court for each team, with the landscape changing after every point and the fans along for a wild ride.
Scenes that stood out for me included …
--Superstars Sarah Wilhite of Eden Prairie and Alyssa Goehner of Lakeville North – who have been club volleyball teammates for four years – embracing (photo) after North defeated Eden Prairie 3-1 in the Class 3A title match.
--Caledonia football players, easy to spot with their blond mohawk haircuts, cheering for the Warriors volleyball team, which fell to Marshall 3-1 in the 2A championship match. The football team won in the state quarterfinals on Friday night and will play in the Metrodome in a few days, and you know the volleyball players will be doing the cheering.
--The teams from Bethlehem Academy and Southwest Christian gathering together after their match in a large circle and giving thanks. At that moment, the fact that Bethlehem Academy had won the 1A title with a 3-1 victory was of little importance to either team.
A common denominator for each title-winning team was the coach. All three have been coaching for a long time and all three are members of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. None of them take any credit for their team’s success, but we all know better than that.
“We had some kids who stepped up and made some big plays,” said Bethlehem Academy coach Franz Boelter, who has been leading the Cardinals for 21 years and has won six state titles since 2002 and finished second at state four times.
The words of the other winning coaches were similar, giving credit to their players for all their hard work and commitment. During the Class 2A postgame ceremony, Marshall coach Dan Westby received his medal and applauded (photo) the Tigers fans as he walked across the court. Westby, who has been the coach at Marshall since 2004 (and also coached for 10 years at Renville County West, winning the 1A state title in 2002), has led Marshall to state championships in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011 and now this year.
The “newcomer” among the winning coaches Saturday was no newcomer, but he is in his first year at Lakeville North. Walt Weaver coached at Apple Valley for 31 years, taking teams to 13 state tournaments and winning titles two titles before retiring six years ago. He took over at North this season when Steve Willingham became the coach at Lakeville South.
North won the state title two years ago under coach Milan Mader, who retired after that season. Willingham led the Panthers to a state runner-up finish last year and Weaver was at the helm for this year’s championship.
From day one this season, the first words out of Weaver’s mouth have been about how talented the North players. The second words out of his mouth were usually along the lines of “I hope I don’t mess them up too bad.”
Boelter is the most outwardly emotional of the three coaches. As the Cardinals received their gold medals, he hugged each of them with tears in his eyes. It’s not about the end result, but the journey that the team shares.
“I’m really happy for our seniors,” Boelter said outside the locker room a few minutes later. “You see them come out here, a lot of wet cheeks. Sometimes you can’t tell if we’re the winning locker room or the losing locker room.
“The underclassmen can’t understand why the upperclassmen are crying so much and the upperclassmen can’t understand why they’re not. It’s kind of a funny situation. It’s a great group of kids and I knew that before our season ever started.”
Weaver was a late hire at Lakeville North and missed the first four days of practice because he had booked a trip to Alaska before accepting the job. He is not certain if he will return next season.
“Right now, this minute, I might be back, I might not,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
ONE OF THE NEW coaches at the state tournament also knows the experience as a player. Cassie Wolpern is in her third year at Belle Plaine, which finished fourth in 2A.
As a player at Belle Plaine she became a national volleyball figure, playing at state in her sophomore and junior years before graduating in 2003. She was a four-time all-state selection and during her senior season she became the all-time national leader in career kills with 2,638; today she ranks sixth on that list. She still holds the Minnesota prep record for career kills, as well as the single-season records for kills and blocks.
Wolpern played one season at the University of San Diego before transferring to Minnesota State Mankato, where she graduated with a degree in finance. The Tigers’ appearance at state this year was their first since 2005
--My favorite pre-match moment: The Bethlehem Academy players in a tunnel that leads to the floor, standing in a circle with their arms around each other, swaying and singing quietly, sweetly.
--My favorite in-match moment: The Southwest Christian students chanting during timeouts: “Coach ‘em up, Greg! Coach ‘em up!” (The coach is Greg Sayuk).
--Tweet of the day: “Congrats to the (redacted) Vball team, consultation state champs!” The word is “consolation.” But I know what you meant; congrats indeed!
--We have turned the Xcel Energy Center over to Bruce Springsteen, who will perform there Sunday and Monday.
--Class 1A: Carly Masloski, Underwood; Riley Hanson, Megan Norby, Nevis; Shelby Kaster, Win-E-Mac; Megan Larson, Taylor Reiss, Minneota; Mackenzie Horkey, Katie Lubben, Southwest Christian; Jessie Mathews, Maddie Borwege, Bethlehem Academy.
--Class 2A: Afton Sobasky, St. Croix Lutheran; Brooke Anderson, Thief River Falls; Mariena Hayden, Belle Plaine; Macy Weller, Sauk Centre; Maria Fruechte, Emma Lange, Taylor Winjum, Caledonia; Kenzie Beekman, Hannah Bennett, Sydney Griffin, Marshall.
--Class 3A: Jessica Yost, Bemidji; Meghan Koop, Roseville; Carlee Hoppe, Shakopee; Lydia Dimke, Taylor Morgan, Blaine; Sarah Wilhite, Jamie Cairncross, Eden Prairie; Alyssa Goehner, Erica Handley, Sami Flattum, Lakeville North.
--Photo galleries from the state volleyball tournament can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 313
*Miles John has driven: 4,035
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn