Jim Lee wasn’t fully expecting his volleyball team from Ada-Borup/Norman County West to reach the Class 1A state tournament this year. After all, the Cougars were a No. 5 seed in the Section 8 tournament, and that makes for a tough road to the Xcel Energy Center. But here they were Thursday, competing in the big show.
This is Lee’s second year at the helm, and good things sometimes come to those who don’t have to wait very long.
“Usually you can’t get to state this fast,” Lee (pictured) said after his team fell to Wadena-Deer Creek in the quarterfinals. “The girls played so well in that section tournament; they believed.”
Lee is no rookie coach. He was the head coach at Waconia, a Class 3A team, for 20 years before taking over in Ada last season. His Wildcats made it to state once (2010) while competing in section tournaments against some of the top big-school teams in Minnesota. He knows how to build a program, and that process is on the ground floor with the Cougars.
“I would say the difference is that I have not had these girls for as long a time period,” he said. “I think it’s very important in any program when you can develop the young kids, and they get up to the varsity level and they’ve had you in the classroom, they’ve had you on the courts, they know what to expect. Now I’m kind of trying to train them in the middle of the process. There have been some seasons in the past when I’m just sitting there and it’s like I don’t have to say anything; they know what to say and they know what to do.
“I’m thinking if I had them when they were younger they would be doing these things by now. That’s the big difference. It’s not the caliber of the girl, it’s not the height or anything like that; I just haven’t had them in the program enough right now, that’s the biggest thing.”
One of the downsides of being far from the Twin Cities and its many schools is spending evenings scouting other teams in outstate Minnesota. Ada is 45 minutes from Moorhead, and Lee makes lots of long drives to see other games. “So I’m getting home at midnight, one o’clock sometimes. It’s well worth it, but it makes for longer nights.”
One of the advantages of being in a small school (the building in Ada houses kindergarten through 12th grade) is getting to know young students. Lee teaches business classes, and he likes seeing elementary students in the cafeteria and other spots around school.
“And that’s fun,” he said. “I can talk to them and they get to know me even before they get to ninth grade. Which is incredible. When you think about it, I’m where I want to be. The question is how many years is it going to take before these young girls, the third-, fourth-graders, get up there? Because when they get to the varsity level, it’s going to be ‘zing.’ ”Cook County Coach Says Goodbye
Pam Taylor has been the volleyball coach at Cook County in Grand Marais for 35 years, and she is ending her career with a trip to state. The Vikings fell to top-seeded Mayer Lutheran 3-0 in Thursday’s Class 1A quarterfinals and will have at least one more consolation-round match before the season ends.
The Vikings rode a 17-match winning streak into the state tournament, and Taylor (pictured) has reveled in it.
“I just enjoy being with the kids,” she said. “It’s just a sport that I love. I’m going to miss it but my arm’s wearing out, my knees are wearing out. It’s time to let somebody younger take over.”
Assistant coach Marlene Webster will become the head coach next season. Famine Is Over For Spuds
Moorhead played in the very first state volleyball tournament in 1974 and the Spuds have been a regular participant ever since. The 2017 event is their 23rd appearance, but getting past the quarterfinals has been an obstacle.
That made Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Champlin Park in the Class 3A quarterfinals important, because it put Moorhead in the semifinals for the first time since 1996 and ended an 0-7 streak of quarterfinal defeats.
Moorhead won a state title in 1988 and placed second in 1981, 1985, 1986 and 1996. Forest Lake Makes Most Of Return To State
When the Forest Lake Rangers defeated Grand Rapids in the Class 3A Section 7 championship match, it was big news. The Rangers have only been to state once before, in 2002.
Junior Ava Schmoll said, “Everyone was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what just happened?’ We’ve been talking about going to state, we’re all so close and super good friends, and we’re like family to each other. We’re kind of in awe that we’re here.”
The Rangers had a tough draw in the quarterfinals, where they lost to top-seeded and defending state champion Eagan 3-0. That didn’t do much to dampen the team’s enthusiasm.
“We put that in perspective,” said 21-year veteran coach Sherri Alm. “We’re one of eight schools and somebody’s got to play them.”Best Band Moments
--The Eagan band played The Imperial March (also known as Darth Vader’s theme) during a timeout while the Wildcats defeated Forest Lake.
--The Bethlehem Academy band played Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (from 1970!) during the Cardinals’ Class 1A victory over Pine River-Backus.Best Mascot
--Ronnie the Ranger from Forest Lake (see Twitter for a photo).Most Well-Rounded Team
The Roseau volleyball team is filled with multi-sport athletes. Three members of the squad were on the hockey team that went to state last year, four were on the Rams’ state championship basketball team, three have competed in the state track meet and one has been to state in golf.Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohnState Volleyball Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center
Class 1A Quarterfinals
Mayer Lutheran defeated Cook County 3-0
Wadena-Deer Creek defeated Ada Borup/Norman County West 3-0
Minneota defeated New Life Academy 3-0
Bethlehem Academy defeated Pine River-Backus 3-1Class 3A Quarterfinals
Eagan defeated Forest Lake 3-0
Prior Lake defeated Hopkins 3-0
Lakeville North defeated Stillwater 3-0
Moorhead defeated Champlin Park 3-2Class 2A Quarterfinals
Maple Lake defeated Kenyon-Wanamingo 3-0
Holy Angels defeated Kasson-Mantorville 3-2
Marshall defeated Roseau 3-0
North Branch defeated Watertown-Mayer 3-0