Matches do not get much tighter than Eagan's four-set victory Friday that puts the Wildcats in the Class 3A championship match for the third consecutive season.
"My reaction was 'Phew!' " said Eagan coach Kathy Gillen after Eagan's 27-25, 27-25, 21-25, 25-19 semifinal victory over Champlin Park at Xcel Energy Center. "It was a hard-fought battle. We were lucky enough to get the bounces going our way."
Some important bounces came at the end of the first two sets, giving the Wildcats the slim margin of victory for a 2-0 lead. They saved two set-points apiece for the Rebels in those sets.
The scoreboard showed ties eight times in the first set, 16 times in the second and 10 in the third as both teams went back and forth throughout the match with powerful kills and skillful blocks. If the Wildcats got behind by a few points, they simply met in the middle of the court for support, "and know that we're playing as a family, not individually," sophomore outside hitter McKenna Melville said.
After dropping the third set to the Rebels, they got rolling again to take the match in four sets.
"Let's finish this now, we don't want a fifth set," junior Brie Orr recalled.
Brie Orr led the Wildcats with 16 kills and 32 assists, adding 16 digs. Kennedi Orr and Taylor Olstad each had 23 digs.
The Wildcats are seeking their second state title in three years. They finished second last year. But the team doesn't get too high or too low, Gillen said.
"Tomorrow's just another normal day," she said.
Champlin Park's Sydney Hilley, the Star Tribune Metro Volleyball Player of the Year, tallied 29 of the Rebels' 56 kills, 20 digs and 18 assists.
Prior Lake 3, Roseville 0: The Lakers, in their first state tournament appearance, are one victory from a state title after defeating the Raiders 25-20, 26-24, 25-17.
"It's really special," Lakers coach Mike Dean said. "We've got one more to go. They're hungry, and our community's hungry."
The top-seeded Lakers haven't surrendered a set in the tournament.
The story of the match was the second set. The Raiders took control, grabbing a lead as big as seven points. That vanished as the Lakers, who trailed most of the way, came back with a 7-2 run to win the set.
"It's all about just staying focused," said senior Ella Francis, who had 13 kills and six digs. "We really stayed aggressive."
The Lakers took a timeout and talked about mental focus. Continuing the aggressive play when the game is tight is all about mental toughness, Dean said. From there, their blocking, ball control and attack all improved.
"That was a heck of a comeback," Dean said. "You realize that every game is winnable, but every game is also very losable."
With the 2-0 lead rather than tied match, the Lakers coasted in the final set. Keeping the lead was a confidence booster.
"I definitely think we came out more relaxed," Francis said.
Said middle hitter Maddie Bremer: "We just went out there and played our hardest. It's hard to explain what that feeling is."
For the fourth-seeded Raiders, Alivia Garbe led with 11 kills and was second in digs with 12.