For six years, Hopkins volleyball coach Vicki Swenson had the luxury of coaching one of the best setters Minnesota has produced, her daughter Samantha Seliger-Swenson. Yet, because the Royals toiled in a brutal section that included such powers as Eden Prairie and Wayzata, mother and daughter never got to a state tournament together.
This year, with Samantha starring for the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota State High School League realigned volleyball sections, putting Hopkins in a much less perilous one.
“When Samantha saw that before the season, she texted me ‘Really? This happens now?’ ” Vicki Swenson said.
Samantha knew that Hopkins’ route to its first state tournament berth since 2007 had been smoothed over. She was right. The Royals rolled to the Class 3A, Section 6 championship, beating undefeated Minneapolis Washburn in four sets in the final.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Swenson said. “We were happy to be able to beat a very good Washburn team. But there’s always a little luck involved and, sometimes, you need to be a little lucky to get to the state tournament.”
From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to call Hopkins lucky. The Royals survived a regular season filled with injuries, including losing their top players, junior outside hitter Jasmyn (Jaz) Martin and sophomore setter Tara Lee, for lengthy periods. They finished the regular season fourth in the five-team Lake Conference and entered the playoffs with a 14-13 overall record.
While Swenson was scotch-taping a lineup together, the injuries began to have a trickle-down effect. Role players were thrust into vital roles. When the wounded returned, the Royals had depth.
“One of our kids, Amanda Gans, was forced into a major role. Now she’s playing all six rotations and we count on her ball control,” Swenson said. “That changed what Greta [Werner] did. She was someone we needed to step up as a hitter. And Elyse Ruthenbeck, who had never set at this level before, grew tremendously during the season.”
Hopkins faces a serious test Thursday, taking on top-seeded Prior Lake in the Class 3A quarterfinals. Swenson feels her now healthy Royals are capable of an upset but isn’t concerning herself with wins or losses.
“I just want the players to be able to soak in the entire experience,” she said. “My favorite is running out of the tunnel area and coming out on the floor of the Xcel Center, hearing the fans cheering and listening to the national anthem. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Class 3A: In addition to the Hopkins/Prior Lake match, the other upper-bracket quarterfinal pits fourth-seeded Roseville against fifth seed Moorhead.
The lower bracket pits Rochester Mayo against second seed Eagan and North Branch, a state tournament entrant for the first time since 1994, against third seed Champlin Park.
Class 2A: The most anticipated match could occur in the semifinals, where top seed Belle Plaine and fourth seed Stewartville, the defending champs, are in the same side of the bracket.
Class 1A: It’s an interesting dynamic in the top half of the quarterfinal brackets. Fari-bault’s Bethlehem Academy is making its 12th appearance over and is seeded No. 1. The Cardinals won their seventh state title last year. The other three teams in the bracket — undefeated Cook County, Heritage Christian and Verndale — are first-time entrants.