It's a dream matchup of large-school state powers, the defending champion vs. a 31-1 team.
Cupping his mouth and shouting toward his players, Eden Prairie coach Chad Becker yelled, "One more point." Actually, the Eagles, leading 20-16, still needed five points to close out their semifinal victory, but the coach knew the importance of a late five-point lead.
Sophomore setter Elizabeth Mohr responded by setting up senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite for the much-desired point. Becker had his safety net against No. 2 seed Blaine on Friday morning at Xcel Energy Center. The edge held up in a straights-set victory -- 25-17, 25-19, 25-23 -- to earn No. 3 Eden Prairie the chance to defend its Class 3A state title.
"Any time you can push the lead to four, five points late, it gives you room for error late," Becker said. "If we don't build it to five, we're probably still playing.
"All season long we set our goal to get to [the championship], but we never talked about what we wanted to do when we got there. I'm just happy our seniors get to finish the season in the championship."
Waiting for a chance to dethrone the Eagles is Lakeville North, which defeated Eden Prairie earlier this season 2-1 in an invitational with a best-of-three-set format. The Eagles lost to Blaine in the same tournament.
"If we would have had five sets ..." said senior Maddie Reese, recalling the loss to Lakeville North. "We peak at the middle of games."
Despite battling a bad hip that she dislocated before the section playoffs, Reese contributed six digs in the semifinal and played back row most of the match. Filling in at the setter position for Reese, Mohr had 40 assists and five digs in her fifth game in her new role. Wilhite had 22 kills and 11 digs. Blaine was led by Lydia Dimke's 21 assists, eight kills and nine digs, and Taylor Morgan's 12 kills.
Lakeville North 3, Shakopee 0: Top-seeded Lakeville North used 11 players to finish off No. 4 Shakopee 25-11, 25-20, 25-18 to earn a spot in the Class 3A championship game for the second year in a row.
"I like how everybody is involved," said junior right-side hitter Sami Flattum, who is part of the Panthers' never-ending rotation throughout the season. "I think it helps a lot because Courtney [Hayes] is a lot better passer than me."
The tradeoffs that coach Walt Weaver has recognized added up to nine kills for the 6-3 Flattum, while the 5-4 Hayes contributed five digs and an assist. The mixed effort kept the Lakeville North attack fresh and a step ahead of Shakopee, which won three state titles from 2007-09 but has not played in the championship game since.
"I think it really helps to have fresh legs, and it really helps communication," Lakeville North junior Abby Monson said.
After falling behind 1-0, Lakeville North never trailed in the first set again and never trailed at all in the third set. The Sabers' best shot at a win came in the second set, trailing 19-18. Shakopee coach Matt Busch called two timeouts within a two-point span attempting to plan his way past the Panthers. It didn't work.
"I feel like we really could have pushed it out," said Shakopee senior setter Maggie Holcombe, who led her team with 13 assists, five kills and five digs. "We stuck with them, which was nice."
Attempting to stick close with the Panthers is all anyone has done this season. The Panthers return to the championship game with a 31-1 record, the only loss a forfeit. Leading their impressive run has been Metro Player of the Year Alyssa Goehner. She finished with 17 kills and seven digs in their semifinal sweep. Setter Erica Handley had 43 assists, four kills and three digs.
Jason Gonzalez 612-673-4494 Twitter: @JGonStrib