It was a loss that paid dividends.
On Oct. 13, the Lakeville South volleyball team almost defeated perennial powerhouse and No. 1 ranked Eagan for the first time since the 2014 regular season. The Cougars took a two-set lead before dropping three consecutive sets 26-24, 25-23 and 15-9.
Lakeville South coach Stephen Willingham said his team improved immensely that night.
“That game could have went either way,” Willingham said. “We got behind in the fifth set and just ran out of real estate, but we were able do some new things on offense, which gave the girls confidence.”
Not only did the near upset of the state’s top team serve as a swagger boost, but senior Jenny Mosser — who is committed to UCLA — broke the state record for kills in a single game with 49. The previous mark was 45 set by Brittany Chambers of Jordan in 2007.
“During the game I thought, let’s just keep feeding the monster,” Cougars senior Halle Johnston said.
After its match with Eagan, Lakeville South took its momentum into the weekend and competed in the Lakeville North 2016 Bachman Invitational, a tournament it had never won.
The tournament’s field included No. 4 Prior Lake, No. 9 Lakeville North and No. 14 East Ridge, all of which Lakeville South defeated.
After advancing out of their pool, the Cougars defeated Lakeville North in two sets in the semifinals and Prior Lake in two sets in the final. The victory over Prior Lake avenged a loss to the Lakers at the Eagle Invite in September.
“As a school, we haven’t been open that long,” Mosser said. “To be able to say we made history is huge.”
“And to beat Prior Lake,” Johnston added. “That was cool because we had lost to them twice already this year.”
Mosser, Johnston and fellow senior captain Karly Lewis are three leaders who Willingham said “survived the famine” of Cougar volleyball back when they were underclassmen.
Lakeville South finished 13-13 and 4-5 in conference in 2013, the trio’s freshman season. In 2014, the Cougars bounced back and won 20 games before losing to Eagan in the Class 3A, Section 3 final.
Last year, Lakeville South won 23 games and, as the top seed in its section, was poised to reach its first volleyball state tournament in school history. But the Cougars were upset in the section final by Rochester Mayo.
“We learned a lot about getting to a section final, having a real battle and coming out on the losing end with all the expectations,” Willingham said. “The kids [this year] have been really good about handling what is in front of them. We aren’t going to get ahead of ourselves.”
Mosser, Johnson and Lewis agree that this year feels different, and the positive energy inside the Cougar program is tough to deny. On top of nearly defeating Eagan, Mosser’s record night and winning the Bachman Invitational, Johnston also committed to Iowa and Mosser broke her school’s all-time kills mark of 983.
In the same match, she also reached her 1,000th career kill.
Behind Mosser’s dominance above the net, the Cougar seniors are laying a foundation of volleyball excellence for subsequent classes. Willingham sees the effects already trickling down into community youth programs.
Young players turning out to watch Lakeville South on their home floor have seen the Cougars win all seven of their matches and have yet to see them lose a set there.
Whether or not the Cougars reach the state tournament they desperately crave, this season has been memorable for many reasons, and it is a year coaches, players and community members will remember for a long time.
“We are more of a family than we have ever been,” Mosser said. “We get along so well, and I have so much love for everyone on the team.”