The headlines, the talk and the memories from Eden Prairie’s first state volleyball championship will center on the length of Saturday’s match. The Eagles and Lakeville North played through five games and then beyond the standard first-team-to-15-points-is-the-winner plateau in the decisive Game 5.
Yes, the two teams traded punches for 2 hours, 6 minutes at Xcel Energy Center in a duel that will long be remembered for thunderous kills by Eden Prairie’s Sarah Wilhite and North’s Alyssa Goehner. The high-flying duo absolutely hammered the poor volleyball; Wilhite had 33 kills and Goehner had 34, but the outcome of the final match of the 2011 high school volleyball season probably hinged more on one thin little wrist than on the thumpers at the net.
During the second game, Eagles setter Maddie Reese smacked into a teammate. Hard. As Maddie told me afterward, her left wrist “kind of got crushed a little bit.” Eden Prairie coach Chad Becker called a timeout and team trainer Gary Smith gave Reese’s wrist as much treatment as was possible in about 60 seconds.
This was trouble, big trouble for the Eagles. A setter with a bad wrist? That’s like a baseball pitcher with a bad elbow. A bowler with no thumb. A one-legged punter.
“Maddie is a gutty player,” Becker said as he described to me what took place during that second-game timeout. Lakeville North, the defending state champs, had won the first game 25-22 and a 2-0 deficit would be a steep uphill climb for Eden Prairie. When Becker called timeout, the Eagles held a 16-14 lead but Reese was in pain. Lots of pain.
Maddie (pictured) had tears in her eyes. Her teammates were worried about her, and Becker was worried that they might lose their focus on playing volleyball.
“We’d battled some demons where we just don’t play loose and relaxed all the time,” Becker said. “And we’d been battling that, losing game one and going into game two. Right at that moment, when I called that timeout, I said, ‘These are situations we’ve been put in all year long. We’ve responded all year long. Maddie will be fine, we’re going to respond.’
He thought about having other players take over setting duties, at least temporarily, until – or if – Maddie was good to go again.
“I had planned to have the right side set that next rotation and then (Smith) kind of worked (the injury) out. When Maddie was going back out I said, ‘Can you set?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ And I think that just relaxed everyone. You could tell the team wasn’t concerned about maybe the score or the match, they were more concerned about their teammate. And I think that allowed them to relax and just play together.”
The Eagles won the second game 25-21and Smith wrapped Reese’s wrist in red athletic tape before the next game began. The teams split games three and four. The fifth game went Eden Prairie’s way by a 22-20 score, but only after ties and angst at 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20. The clinching point came on a kill by Wilhite and a set assist by … who else? Reese finished with 52 of her team’s 59 set assists.
“I just kind of fought through it, because I really wanted this for my team,” Maddie said. She admitted that it hurt every time she set the ball, but then again, what choice did she have?
“I knew we could do this,”she said, wearing a gold medal around her neck. (In this photo, Maddie stands with teammate Anna Domalewski during the postgame ceremony.) “We worked really hard all season.”
Did she ever think about coming out of the game? “No. No way.”
And then here came Smith, carrying a bag of ice. He put it on Maddie’s wrist, wrapped some tape around it … and the celebration continued.
MARSHALL, BETHLEHEM ACADEMY WIN
While Eden Prairie’s 3A championship was the Eagles’ first in two state tourney appearances, the champions of 2A and 1A are familiar with going to state and finishing first.
In 2A, Marshall beat Stewartville 3-1 as the Tigers captured their fourth state title in 23 trips to state (the other championships were in 2004, 2007 and 2009).
And in 1A, Bethlehem Academy beat Nevis 3-0 to continue its pattern of winning state titles in every odd-numbered year since 2003. That’s right, the Cardinals previously won championships in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009. What’s more, they were the state runner-up in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Their streak of state appearances was interrupted last year when they lost to eventual 1A champ Wabasha-Kellogg in the Section 1 final.
When Marshall won the 2A championship it completed a family threepeat. The Tigers’Kenzie Beekman wears number 14 and was part of a state championship team as a sophomore, as were her big sisters Amanda and Dani.
The team from Nevis wins the prize for most enthusiastic pregame singing. In a corridor just off the Xcel floor, the Tigers belted out oldies such as “Hey Baby” and “Splish Splash.” The volume was exceptional, the pitch was perfect.
CLASS 1A: Nico Schmidt, Mayer Lutheran; Erica Handley, Win-E-Mac; Tiffany Strand, Ada-Borup; Taylor Reiss, Kelsey Hennen, Minneota; Riley Hanson, Megan Norby, Nevis; Maddie Borwege, Jessie Mathews, Payton Schultz, Bethlehem Academy.
CLASS 2A: Macy Weller, Sauk Centre; Emily Miron, Wadena-Deer Creek; Kelsey Chambers, Emilee Gutzmer, Jordan; Kenzie Beekman, Morgan McKittrick, Sydney Griffin, Marshall; Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp, Danielle DeGeus, Stewartville.
CLASS 3A: Lauren Schlobohm, Owatonna; Karlie Hauer, Kaytlin Turner, Andover; Sara Carlson, Ellie VanDeSteeg, Hutchinson; Sarah Wilhite, Ellen Piechowski, Eden Prairie; Alyssa Goehner, Jessica Wolf, Sami Flattum, Lakeville North.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 127
*Miles John has driven: 4,844
*Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 38 for the fall tournaments
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