Jenay Fuglestad admitted that there were times during the season when her father Tom's grand plan for the Heritage Christian volleyball didn't feel like a lot of fun.
Tom Fuglestad, the Eagles coach, put together a rugged schedule, hoping to toughen up his players as they chased the program's first state tournament appearance. A little sacrifice, a long-term gain.
It paid off Thursday when Heritage Christian (27-10) fought off undersized-but-feisty Verndale in the Class 1A quarterfinals, winning 25-18, 20-25, 27-25, 25-19 in a battle of state tourney first-timers.
"In the moment, it's hard playing so many great teams because you're going to lose every once in a while," Jenay said. "So it's awesome to see how strong it's made us."
What Verndale lacked in height — the Pirates have just two players taller than 5-7 — they made up for in quickness and a house full of grit. That house would be the Glenz residence, home of coach Shelley Glenz and her three volleyball-playing daughters — Jordyn, Shania and Morgan.
Last season Shelley coached the team while she battled cancer. "I was taking treatments during the season," she said.
With her daughters leading the way, Verndale advanced as far as the section semifinals.
This year, with her cancer in remission, the Pirates were able to concentrate solely on volleyball.
"I told them at the start of the season to put all of that away," Shelley said. "I said the cancer isn't a factor anymore."
The match could scarcely have had two more contrasting teams. On one side was the quickness and defense of Verndale, on the other the height and power of Heritage.
After the teams split the first two sets, Verndale had a chance to win the third with a set point, but could not put Heritage away. The Crusaders took the third set 27-25 and won the final set 25-19.
"We're at our best when points are quick," said Jenay Fuglestad, who had a match-high 25 kills. "I'm glad we played the schedule we did because we learned how to win when the points don't go that way."
Tom Fuglestad agreed: "It's by design that we play a difficult schedule. It's for moments just like this. If we hadn't, I wonder if we would have had the strength to overcome a tough team like Verndale. They played a fast game and we've played fast teams before. It helped prepare us."
Bethlehem Academy 3, Cook County 0: The defending champion Cardinals made quick work of Cook County, which went into the match as the state's only undefeated team. The Cardinals won 25-15, 25-10, 25-9 behind 16 kills from Payton Nutter, 17 set assists from Shelby Meyer and a defense that held Cook County to just 13 total kills.
Waterville-Elysian-Morristown 3, Ada-Borup 0: Ada-Borup, making its fifth state tournament appearance in the past six years, was no match for the Buccaneers, who improved to 32-3 with a 25-14, 25-20, 25-9 victory. Four players had double-figures in kills for WEM, led Kamryn Kendall and Kate Masberg with 11 each.
Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 3, Sebeka 0: The Panthers, runners-up in 2014, took a step toward another championship game with a decisive 25-9, 25-18, 25-9 victory. Sydney Lanoue had 15 kills and Sara Stoneberg 11 kills and 16 digs for Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.
Rachel Finkbeiner contributed to this report.