Eagan star's future is now

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2012 - 11:04 PM

One-time U volleyball recruit Taylr McNeil has endless college options, but her Wildcats want to beat Lakeville North first.


Eagan junior outside hitter Taylr McNeil

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Taylr McNeil is clearly in her element on the volleyball court.

The Eagan outside hitter leaps with grace and hits with power. She digs out balls adroitly, turning opponents' attacks into offensive opportunities. Even rare failures -- a spike a little too deep, a pass slightly off the mark -- draw admiring scrutiny, like a baseball player crushing a ball that goes just foul.

"I just love to play," said the exuberant, vocal McNeil, her ever-present smile getting a little wider. "I love being on court. That's my favorite place."

That passion has spilled over to the team around her. Eagan has a history of producing quality players, but the junior's presence has turned good to great, potential to achievement.

The Wildcats are 17-2, their only losses coming back-to-back in two-set matches to Wayzata and Shakopee at the Apple Valley Eagle Invitational.

"She is the glue, the coach on the court," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen-Melville said. "She does everything well."

Doubly disappointing stretch

McNeil's versatility appeared to have directed her future toward the University of Minnesota.

In 2010, then-Gophers coach Mike Hebert offered scholarships to Taylr and her older sister, Kellie. Both were playing for Lakeville North at the time.

Kellie played for the Gophers last year while the rest of the McNeil family moved to Eagan. Taylr -- her name spelled in a twist meant to set her apart -- led the Wildcats to the semifinals of the high-caliber Class 3A, Section 3 playoffs. They were defeated by -- you guessed it -- Lakeville North.

The high school offseason then brought more disappointment.

New Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon, who led the U.S. women's team to a silver medal at the London Olympics this summer, was eager to put his own stamp on the program. Kellie left the university team. One month later, Taylr's scholarship offer was rescinded.

Volleyball Internet chat rooms and comment threads were filled with speculation. McNeil was so inundated with questions that she made the topic off-limits, save for an occasional acknowledgement of the situation.

Initially taken aback by the decision, McNeil said, she adopted a forward-thinking approach. The Gophers' loss, she feels, is her gain.

"I'm not unhappy about it," she said. "I get to go around and look at other schools. It's been fun. I'm looking forward the future."

McNeil said she's narrowed her list of future colleges to three, but won't divulge them until the season is over.

"Right now, all I want to focus on is this season," she said.

Not just a supporting cast

A straight-set victory over South Suburban Conference rival Burnsville on Thursday added to expectations for the Wildcats that are as high as they have been since Eagan won four big-school state championships between 1997 and 2003.

In the match, McNeil was everywhere, setting up as a primary defensive option, then rotating to hit from the left side, where she's most comfortable.

But the Wildcats are much more than McNeil and a supporting cast.

Nicole Johnson, a versatile setter, can also step up and hit from the front row. Bri Pernsteiner is having an all-state-caliber season blocking and hitting from the middle. Senior libero Calleigh Steichen provides the energy and leads the team in floor burns.

"Of course, we love having Taylr because she's amazing, but it's about more than just one person," Pernsteiner said. "I feel like we have a lot of great players. The team comes first."

Which is exactly the way McNeil wants it. Coming from Lakeville North, McNeil felt accepted last year but now knows that Eagan is not only her new school but her home.

"I felt that the moment I walked into the gym this year," she said. "We're all equals. We're always talking and joking. And we've all these fans here, cheering for us. It feels like family."

Neighboring itch to scratch

Despite their success, the Wildcats have one nagging itch that they are aching to scratch:

Lakeville North.

The defending Class 3A champions are ranked No. 1. The Panthers are also in the same section. The teams are scheduled to meet Oct. 16, and it's a challenge Eagan is ready for.

"This is, by far, the best team we've had at Eagan since I've been involved," Steichen said. "We are just as strong as they are."

McNeil insists her desire to beat Lakeville North is simply competitive. There are no personal issues. It's about playing volleyball, she says. Nothing more.

"It will be just another game," she said. "They're a great team, but so are we. It's not about me. It's about us."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Milwaukee 115 FINAL
Orlando 100
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 103
Denver 69 FINAL
Memphis 99
Chicago 118 FINAL
LA Lakers 123
Montreal 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 0
Winnipeg 2 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Boston 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Arizona 3 FINAL
Toronto 1
Dallas 6 FINAL
Ottawa 3
Detroit 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 5
Columbus 2 FINAL
Florida 3
Nashville 4 FINAL(SO)
St. Louis 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Calgary 0
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Anaheim 3 FINAL
San Jose 6
DePaul 72 FINAL
Providence 83
Michigan State 71 FINAL
Rutgers 51
Boston Univ 67 FINAL
Army 71
Fla Atlantic 61 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Youngstown St 87 FINAL
Detroit 93
East Tenn St 55 FINAL
Furman 59
Saint Louis 60 FINAL
George Mason 68
USC Upstate 78 FINAL
Jacksonville 65
High Point 72 FINAL
Liberty 53
Central Conn St 55 FINAL
Long Island 67
Western Ky 56 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 69
Dayton 64 FINAL
Massachusetts 66
Chattanooga 72 FINAL
Mercer 75
Wofford 58 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 42
Maryland 56 FINAL
Ohio State 80
Old Dominion 71
Fair-Dickinson 65 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Mount St Marys 67 FINAL
St Francis-NY 73
Bryant 68 FINAL
St Francis-PA 75
Northern Ky 75 FINAL
Stetson 85
Coll of Charleston 70 FINAL
Towson 74
Western Carolina 85 FINAL
Va Military 70
Sacred Heart 64 FINAL
Wagner 75
Lipscomb 62 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 78
Kennesaw St 67 FINAL
North Florida 86
Appalachian St 46 FINAL
Ga Southern 83
Holy Cross 54 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 64
Eastern Ill 51 FINAL
UT Martin 81
Jacksonville St 82 FINAL
Belmont 103
Connecticut 58 FINAL
Cincinnati 70
Rider 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 49
SIU Edwardsville 75 FINAL
SE Missouri St 61
Marshall 69 FINAL
Southern Miss 54
Tenn Tech 56 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Middle Tennessee 58 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
Ill-Chicago 65 FINAL
Milwaukee 71
Weber State 67 FINAL
North Dakota 60
Denver 54 FINAL
North Dakota St 61
IUPU-Ft Wayne 66 FINAL
South Dakota 55
Louisiana 85 FINAL
South Alabama 89
Ark-Little Rock 75 FINAL
Arkansas State 65
Georgia State 88 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 74
Troy 55
Portland 46 FINAL
Gonzaga 64
Kentucky 69 FINAL
Missouri 53
Eastern Ky 78 FINAL
Murray State 85
Texas-El Paso 71
Idaho State 76 FINAL
Northern Colorado 79
Grand Canyon 78
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Utah Valley U 78
Colorado 98 FINAL
USC 94
Cal Poly 57 FINAL
UC Irvine 67
Hawaii 84 FINAL
CS-Northridge 73
Pepperdine 50 FINAL
Pacific 43
Santa Clara 64 FINAL
San Diego 69
Utah 59 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 64 FINAL
UC Davis 70
Montana 73 FINAL
Portland State 54
Montana State 59 FINAL
Sacramento St 75
Long Beach State 91 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 85
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
St Marys-CA 68
San Francisco 74 FINAL
BYU 78
California 76 FINAL
Washington St 67
Louisiana 47 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Saint Josephs 51 FINAL
Saint Louis 52
Appalachian St 77 FINAL
Georgia Southern 74
Niagara 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 65
Old Dominion 80 FINAL
FIU 67
Southern Miss 65 FINAL
Marshall 67
Georgia State 45 FINAL
TX-Arlington 57
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Troy 90
Pittsburgh 45 FINAL
(17) Duke 62
(6) Tennessee 73 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 72
(24) Oklahoma 81 FINAL
(14) Texas 84
Nebraska Omaha 59 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 70
UC-Riverside 68 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56
Army 65 FINAL
Boston U 40
New Orleans 40 FINAL
Nicholls 56
Charlotte 68 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 71
Towson 54 FINAL
Delaware 72
Hofstra 66 FINAL
Northeastern 45
New Hampshire 56 FINAL
Maine 87
Albany 89 FINAL
Vermont 48
Hartford 60 FINAL
Stony Brook 58
UNC-Wilmington 62 FINAL
William & Mary 67
Clemson 62 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Alabama 54 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 85
(23) Syracuse 58 FINAL
(8) Louisville 78
Missouri 68 FINAL
Florida 52
Iona 66 FINAL
Fairfield 77
Manhattan 38 FINAL
Marist 77
NC State 63 FINAL
Virginia 71
(4) Notre Dame 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 50
(22) Rutgers 58 FINAL
Purdue 49
(5) Maryland 91 FINAL
Michigan 65
Milwaukee 58 FINAL
Cleveland State 67
Wright State 108 FINAL
Oakland 89
Jacksonville 64 FINAL
USC Upstate 66
North Florida 40 FINAL
Kennesaw St 46
Stetson 62 FINAL
Northern Ky 68
Loyola-Maryland 57 FINAL
Holy Cross 51
Lamar 87 FINAL
Sam Houston St 68
Fla Gulf Coast 71 FINAL
Lipscomb 49
Vanderbilt 44 FINAL
(18) Miss State 69
Western Ill 73
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Houston Baptist 50
Incarnate Word 54 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 63
McNeese State 78 FINAL
SE Louisiana 57
Oral Roberts 46 FINAL
South Dakota St 71
Louisiana Tech 66 FINAL
Western Ky 82
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 73
Texas-El Paso 52 FINAL
UAB 67
Auburn 47 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Grand Canyon 65 FINAL
Illinois 57 FINAL
(15) Nebraska 59
(20) Iowa 102 FINAL
Northwestern 99
Utah Valley U 55 FINAL
Chicago State 60
Green Bay 67 FINAL
Valparaiso 52
Ole Miss 41 FINAL
LSU 70
Portland State 31 FINAL
Montana 72
Sacramento St 64 FINAL
Montana State 91
North Dakota 55 FINAL
Weber State 48
Ohio State 85 FINAL
Wisconsin 73
Northern Colorado 61 FINAL
Idaho State 70
San Francisco 63
St Marys-CA 56 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 49
Pacific 63 FINAL
Pepperdine 59
Cal-Irvine 61 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 58
San Diego 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
UC Davis 64 FINAL
Cal Poly 72
Long Beach St 64 FINAL
Hawaii 72


question of the day

Poll: Which of these teams is the most frustrating to watch right now?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters