The Tornadoes are making a state tournament appearance for the first time in nine years.
Anoka volleyball teammates Megan Lindenfelser and Kelci Green add what can be called a hero incentive to a potential match point.
"We make bets like, 'If you get the winner, I'll buy you a Gatorade,'" Lindenfelser said.
Distracted perhaps by the tension of a decisive fifth game -- one that would send Anoka to its first state tournament in nine years -- the two broke tradition in last Saturday's Class 3A, Section 7 final against St. Francis.
But after Green slammed down the winning kill, Lindenfelser said, 'I'll buy you whatever you want.' "
"I was like, 'OK, I want Chex Mix, the Muddy Buddies kind,' " Green said.
The snack -- a chocolate, peanut butter and powdered sugar concoction better known as puppy food -- is fitting. Anoka (23-7) begins the state tournament as heavy underdogs against No. 1 seed Lakeville North (29-1) at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Tornadoes will need to combine all the attributes that helped them reach the state tournament in order to beat Lakeville North.
They are toughest in the middle, where Kelci and twin sister Kassi create mismatches with their quickness and ability to hit the ball from anywhere at the net.
The duo produced huge kills and blocks throughout the St. Francis match. They were at their best in the decisive fifth game. Kelci, generally considered a notch below Kassi until closing the gap this season, recorded six of their combined eight kills.
"I was really proud of Kelci tonight," Kassi said. "She really came out of her shell."
Lindenfelser and Mikayla Hong also contributed kills against St. Francis while Lauren Sherva chipped in defensively and Hailee Gifford and Cece Rand shored up the back row.
"Everybody is just so excited," Lindenfelser said. "We knew we could do it. We've been having morning practices and working so hard."
The added effort showed on the court. Anoka built its confidence with a 3-1 victory against Andover on Oct. 9. And players were unanimous: The 3-0 section semifinal victory against North Branch was their best match of the season.
Conversely, nerves and big-game inexperience led to sloppy moments throughout the St. Francis match. Leading 18-8 in the fourth game, the Saints went on a 8-0 run to draw with two points.
"We told ourselves to regroup and calm down because we were still up by a lot," Lindenfelser said. "Just relax and play your game."
Anoka closed out the game on a 7-2 run.
St. Francis had defeated Anoka 3-2 back on Aug. 28 but the Tornadoes weren't worried about the past Saturday. They controlled the fifth game by jumping out to leads of 5-1 and 10-5 before closing out the match 15-10.
"I just think we wanted it more than they did," Kassi Green said. "We wanted it since the beginning of the season and now that we got it, it feels so good."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574