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 One month later, Taylr's scholarship offer was rescinded.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


San Francisco - M. Bumgarner 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Houston 7:00 PM
Indiana 7:00 PM
Utah 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Portland 8:00 PM
Phoenix 9:00 PM
LA Lakers
LA Clippers 9:30 PM
Golden State
San Jose 6:00 PM
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Toronto 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Detroit 6:30 PM
Arizona 7:00 PM
Carolina 7:00 PM
Philadelphia 7:30 PM
Vancouver 7:30 PM
Florida 8:00 PM
Tampa Bay 8:00 PM
Arkansas State 7:00 PM
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM


question of the day

Poll: Are you happy to see the Royals in the World Series?

Weekly Question





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