As handily as Champlin Park dispatched of Hopkins, winning 25-16, 27-25, 25-17 in the Class 3A semifinals, it's a little strong to say the match hinged on one brief stretch in the second set. But the significance was evident.
After dominating the first set Friday at Xcel Energy Center, Champlin Park fell behind 24-22 in the second. A tied match loomed.
The Rebels dug in. They saved one set point, then another. Hopkins edged ahead once and then again, but each time Champlin Park found a way to save the set. And when Hopkins star outside hitter Jaz Martin had back-to-back attacks fail, the Rebels had pulled out a 27-25 victory.
Momentum clearly resided on Rebels' side of the court.
"I was proud of the way we handled that," Champlin Park outside hitter Sydney Hilley said. "We got down, and our motto was one-by-one, just forget what's happened. I had confidence in the team the whole time."
Hopkins coach Vicki Swenson was clearly disappointed that her team, making the deepest tournament run in program history, let the opportunity slip away.
"Our serve receive was not on today," she said. "We got better for a little while there in the second set, but we couldn't finish."
The Rebels, with Hilley pounding away from the left side, cruised through the third set, qualifying for the final for the first time in team history. Hilley, the reigning Ms. Volleyball, finished with 23 kills, giving her 65 for the tournament.
"They're just a really well-disciplined team," Swenson said. "When the going gets tough, they go to Hilley. A player like that elevates the entire team."
Eagan 3, Lakeville South 0: There was still the better part of three sets left to play, but the Wildcats' 25-12, 25-13, 25-15 victory was essentially determined in the first few minutes of the opening set.
Lakeville South's Jenny Mosser, who had set a state record with 48 kills in the only meeting of the season between the two teams, went on the attack early. Four times Mosser elevated above the net and delivered the volleyball equivalent of a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. And four consecutive times, Eagan libero Taylor Olstad brought it back.
It was obvious that no record was going to be set in this match.
"Taylor kind of set the tone," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. "Jenny's first four hits, she dug her out all four times, straight up. That set the tone of where the defense was at."
Olstad, who has been a libero for little more than a year, acknowledged that defending Mosser had her on edge at first. "Going into it, I was very, very nervous. But after those first four, my confidence level was brought up. It was a good feeling," she said.
Mosser finished with just eight kills in 45 attacks, the first time all season she was held to less than double figures. Olstad had a match-high 14 digs.
Defending champion Eagan (30-1) was making its fourth consecutive appearance in the semifinals. Lakeville South (28-4) had never gotten this far before. Players on both teams said that experience played a role.
"We're comfortable in where we are," Wildcats leader Brie Orr said. "The [Xcel Center] doesn't make us nervous like it did in my freshman year."
Mosser agreed, saying: "That experience they had playing in this game was different. It's a different atmosphere, a different game altogether. They made no mistakes and we didn't rise to the occasion."