To hear it from Lakeville North teammates, playing at Xcel Energy Center is no different than just another match in the high school gym.
Not that the Panthers aren't thrilled to be where they are, which is one match from a state championship after a thorough 25-18, 25-16, 25-20 victory over Moorhead on Friday in the Class 3A semifinals. They are. But keeping an even keel and consistent approach has been the mantra all season. It's gotten them this far and they're not about to change now.
"One of our biggest strengths is that we take every single game we play the same as every other game," setter Amanda Berger said. "No matter the position we're in."
Lakeville North is making its first state tournament appearance since winning the 3A crown in 2012, but players have shown no signs of letting the moment be too big for them. Using their usual scrappy defense as a foundation, the Panthers took Moorhead out of its system and forced the Spuds to scramble for offense.
"They've got such great blockers and they got hands on a lot of balls," Moorhead coach Char Lien said. "That just slows it down and then their defenders can run and get the balls."
The offense builds off the Lakeville North defense, leading to a balanced attack that opponents struggle to solve. Three Panthers had double figures in kills: Macy Winter had 13, Elizabeth Juhnke 12 and Kennedy Brady 10.
"We have a very well-rounded team," Panthers coach Jackie Richter said. "You can't get to that point offensively without the pass, the dig and the set."
Winter, a junior outside hitter, summed it up succinctly: "I wouldn't want to play us."
Eagan 3, Prior Lake 0: Now in the midst of their fifth consecutive trip to the Class 3A state tournament, the Eagan players still admit to getting nervous before tournament games.
The way they played Friday in a 25-19, 25-15, 25-11 victory over Prior Lake, it's fair to assume those nerves didn't last long.
"We had a lot of nerves in the first set, but we calmed down in the second and third set," senior outside hitter McKenna Melville said. "We started putting a lot more pressure on them. We played very well together."
A big part of Eagan's strength is its depth. Where most teams have one or two key offensive players, the Wildcats can attack effectively with as many as five players. It's volleyball's version of Whack-A-Mole — defend one and another pops up on the other side of the court.
"Balance is our advantage over other teams," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. "We have so many hitters who can score."
That depth makes it easy for the Eagan setters to spread the ball around. Any decision made winds up as a quality attack. Freshman setter Kennedi Orr wound up with 19 set assists while junior setter Kelly Johnson added 14.
"It's kind of a setter's dream," Gillen said. "She can go anywhere."
Melville was the main beneficiary of the Eagan offense, racking up 16 kills. Orr, who doubles as an imposing attacker when she's not setting, added 9 kills and 6-2 junior middle hitter Ellie Husemann added 8. As a team, Eagan posted a whopping .368 attack percentage.
It all added up to a dominant effort by the Wildcats, who earned a chance to play for their third straight state championship and fourth in the last five years.
"It's a lot of fun," Melville said. "When you get on these rolls, it's really fun to see the ball go over the net. We're flowing so well."