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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/5/2012 11:38:18 AM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

That was a lot of fun.

It was standing room only for both student sections Saturday night at Park High School for the Class 3A Section 3 volleyball final between two of the state’s top teams. The No. 1-ranked Lakeville North Panthers were attempting to get back to state for the third straight time, but to do it they had to get past their South Suburban Conference rival and second-ranked Eagan Wildcats.

“Both teams are the top teams in the state,” said North coach Walt Weaver.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere in the packed gym. Both teams brought their bands and it was like there were three contests going on at once. The volleyball game, of course, but both students sections and both bands seemed to be competing with each other, as well. One students section would cheer or start a chant and a minute later the other student section would try to top it. The same can be said for the bands – the whole night was an exciting back-and-forth game of “can you top this?”

“At some points I had to close my ears,” said Panthers junior Alyssa Goehner. “It was loud, it was fun. I live for games like this. This is my favorite part of volleyball – tonight. I love all the pressure and coming closer with my team. That’s what these kind of games do – bring teams closer. The atmosphere was crazy, it was fun.”

In the midst of the atmosphere, there was a berth in the state tournament to hand out. I will admit I am not a volleyball expert, but it only took about five minutes to figure out who the marquee players were on each team. Eagan’s junior outside hitter Taylr McNeil and Lakeville North’s junior outside hitter Goehner made their presence felt early and often.

“You are looking at the best players in the state on both teams,” said Weaver. “There were major, major players out there.”

The two volleyball powers went back and forth early in game one until the Panthers ran off five straight points to take control. The Panthers were able to stay more consistent late in the game with the 5-foot-11 Goehner the go-to offensive threat. North’s 25-18 victory was capped off by two great serves by senior defensive specialist Abby Monson.

North started out game two like they ended game one, but the Wildcats, behind McNeil and some great defense on a pair of digs by junior Kelly Madison, helped Eagan rip off four straight points and an 18-14 lead. North would battle back, but could not close the gap.

Eagan tied up the match with a 25-21 victory.
“(Eagan) knew things about us that other teams wouldn’t pick up,” said Weaver. “They knew how we served, they knew when they got in trouble where to put the ball.”

Eagan couldn’t keep the momentum as game three began. The Panthers started the game strong, but the Wildcats looked a little off their game and fell behind 6-2. Senior Laura Larson kept a number of points alive for the defending section champion Panthers. As they did all night, however, Eagan came roaring back and took the lead. They looked to be on track to go up two games to one when they extended their lead to 17-14. Goehner took over again, however, and it was the Panthers’ turn to come back. Larson came up with a huge dig to set up game point, but the Wildcats wouldn’t go down without a fight. They fought off four straight game points, but ultimately the powerful Panthers got that final point to hold on to game three 25-23.

“We thought of it as one point,” said Goehner. “A tip, a roll, a shot, something smart. It’s not always about the big shot and making the fans go wild. We just played smart volleyball. Volleyball is a game of momentum and they had it at the end of that game, but the team that we are, we can come together and we can push for that last point. That is why we won that third game.”

Game four was much the same as the previous three. Both teams took turns making short three-point runs and neither team was able to get more than a two-point lead. North finally took control late, keyed by senior Erica Handley’s kill. At 24-20 and one point from state, the Panthers went back to Goehner and she delivered yet again. Her final kill of the night sent North back to state with a 25-20 win in game four and a 3-1 victory.

“The 11 kids who started the season together all have everything going for them,” said Weaver. “They are smart. They are phenomenal athletes, they get along well. When you know someone’s got your back and you know there are weapons on every single inch of the court, then it is a lot easier.”

“It is serving and passing,” said Goehner. “Walt told me serving and passing wins championships. If you can’t serve or if you can’t pass you are not going to win. Walt’s big philosophy is serving and passing. You can’t get a hit if you can’t get a set. You can’t get a set if you can’t get a pass. You can’t get a pass if you can’t get a serve.”

“Once we got ahead a little bit,” said Weaver, “things got a little bit tighter. Then we made some good plays.”

Weaver summed up the night perfectly.
“That was high school sports at its absolute best. You couldn’t do any more than that match.”


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