The 2018 volleyball season will come to a close Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, with state championships decided in all three classes. The entire endeavor started when practices began on Aug. 13 with every team in Minnesota dreaming of glory at the finish line.
The season was still young when the team from Champlin Park played at Lakeville North. On a warm Tuesday evening in mid-September, the visiting Rebels lost a five-set match, after which Champlin Park coach John Yunker talked about his team’s challenging schedule.
“It’s a meat grinder when you play teams like this, and it’s in preparation for the postseason,” he said then.
Champlin Park’s only other defeat this season came in the championship match of the Shakopee Invitational on the final day of the regular season. The opponent was Eagan … and those are the teams that will decide the Class 3A state title in the big barn at the corner of Kellogg Boulevard and West 7th Street.
Eagan defeated Stillwater 3-1 in Friday’s semifinals and Champlin Park got past Lakeville South (the team that beat Lakeville North in the Section 1 final) by the same 3-1 score.
Afterward, Yunker was asked what he most liked about his team’s performance.
“The battle factor,” he said. “They just competed. … they battled.”
I haven’t seen any team t-shirts bearing the phrase “Battle Though the Meat Grinder” but that’s a fair theme for this sport at this level.
Eagan, the top seed, will play in the title match for the sixth year in a row. The Wildcats own seven state championships since 1997, including 2015 and 2016. Champlin Park, the No. 3 seed, lost to Eagan 3-1 in the state final two years. The Rebels are seeking their first title.
“Honestly, this is high-level volleyball,” Yunker said. “Eagan has been in this match, for what, six years in a row? It’s not new to them and they’re here for a reason. They keep graduating people and everybody goes, ‘Oh, they’re going to be down.’ Well, they’re not. Their program’s an outstanding program.
“I think that’s us this year, too. We’ve been very fortunate to have the group we have. When we’re on, it’s very low-error and a lot of high-level volleyball players. We’re very fortunate with the kids we have.”
Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said her team has never assumed it would be playing for another title and that's not been stated as a team goal.
"Never. I would never put that on a kid. That’s too much.
“We never take it granted. This was a battle today, every match is a battle, every point is a battle. It’s a great way to end your season, playing on that court. And we hope we bring our A game tomorrow.”
The Wildcats’ Ellie Husemann, a 6-foot-3 senior who will play at the University of Minnesota, said, “Every team’s going to bring their best against us. We know that in these big moments we have to bring our best. Every game is a big game.
“This place is such a cool environment to play in and we don’t want to take anything for granted. We just want to go out and give 100 percent every single point.”
Back on that warm September evening, Champlin Park libero Kaitlyn Weimerskirch talked about the need to keep grinding away.
“The goal right now is to continue to get better and believe in the process and just grind it out,” she said. “But obviously we want to make it all the way to the end, because we know that we have what it takes to make it there.”
And here they are.In Saturday’s other championship matches,
it will be Minneota vs. Medford in Class 1A and North Branch vs. Concordia Academy-Roseville or Marshall in Class 2A.State Volleyball Tournament
Minneota defeated New York Mills 3-0
Ada-Borup defeated Carlton 3-1
Medford defeated Mayer Lutheran 3-2
Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa defeated 3-0 New Life Academy
Minneota defeated Ada-Borup 3-1
Medford defeated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 3-1
9 a.m. fifth place: Carlton vs. Mayer Lutheran
11 a.m. third place: Ada-Borup vs. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
1 p.m. championship: Minneota vs. MedfordCLASS 2A
Kasson-Mantorville defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 3-0
North Branch defeated Watertown-Mayer 3-2
Concordia Academy-Roseville defeated Belle Plaine 3-1
Marshall defeated Park Rapids 3-1
North Branch defeated Kasson-Mantorville 3-2
Marshall defeated Concordia Academy-Roseville 3-1
11 a.m. fifth place: St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Belle Plaine
1 p.m. third place: Kasson-Mantorville vs. Concordia Academy
3 p.m. championship: North Branch vs. MarshallCLASS 3A
Eagan defeated Forest Lake 3-1
Stillwater defeated Shakopee 3-2
Champlin Park defeated Moorhead 3-0
Lakeville South defeated Edina 3-1
Eagan defeated Stillwater 3-1
Champlin Park defeated Lakeville South 3-1
9 a.m. fifth place: Shakopee vs. Moorhead
3 p.m. third place: Stillwater vs. Lakeville South
5 p.m. championship: Eagan vs Champlin Park Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn