Rand: Concordia's sixth volleyball title a struggle

  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 11:11 PM

Cassie Haag, a senior middle blocker from Plymouth, helped the Golden Bears on Saturday to their sixth consecutive NCAA Division II title, tying a volleyball all-division record.

Concordia-St. Paul’s Cassie Haag worked high above the net during NCAA Division II tournament play.

Photo: , Concordia-St. Paul

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Cassie Haag and her Concordia-St. Paul volleyball teammates left Florida and arrived in the Twin Cities shortly after noon Sunday -- right in the middle of the Storm of the Century (or at least of the past year).

Not even that sudden jolting transformation from sun to snow was enough to dampen her mood.

"I'm on Cloud 9," she said Monday afternoon, hours before her team was set to attend a public celebration at a local bar and grill. "I keep seeing people, and I don't even know what to tell them."

That kind of euphoria is explained by the perfect end to a hard-to-beat career. Haag, a senior middle blocker from Plymouth, helped the Golden Bears on Saturday to their sixth consecutive NCAA Division II title, tying a volleyball all-division record. She has been a part of the past four -- taking home all-tournament honors this time to go with her All-American status.

Winning sometimes feels more real after a struggle, and this championship was not easy for Concordia. After dropping the first two sets to the University of Tampa, the Golden Bears won the final three by the slimmest of margins: 25-23, 25-23, 16-14.

"It came down to heart because if you look at stats, Tampa was better than us in every category. But we won the points that mattered," Haag said. "It was that, 'at last, we did this' feeling. We came together when we needed to. It was a total team effort. To be out there with those girls who are my best friends ... I was just giddy."

So, too, was her head coach, Brady Starkey. He has created a dynasty at Concordia, crediting the steady flow of talented in-state players for the program's success.

"The biggest thing is how strong the club programs are here in Minnesota," he said, noting the Gophers nearly reached the Division I Final Four while St. Thomas won the Division III national crown. "It just allows us to keep picking up players that are talented, and a lot come in and have an immediate impact."

On the flip side, Haag credits Starkey and his assistants for the sustained success.

"Just like every other year, this year is about the coaches," she said. "They are the best coaches I've ever had. They know how to motivate us."

If that's the case, championship No. 7 in a row -- even without the graduating Haag -- must be on the way, right?

"We're going to enjoy this one for a little bit," Starkey said, "and then we'll start thinking about it."

MICHAEL RAND

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