After reaching the Class 3A title game last year, Eagan has the knowledge — and talent — to get back there this season.
For a program that has seen the level of success of Eagan volleyball, expectations shouldn’t change based on the results of a previous season, good or bad, coach Kathy Gillen-Melville said.
But that doesn’t mean last season’s run to the Class 3A title hasn’t changed a lot of things for the 2014 Wildcats.
“It’s not really about having higher expectations,” Gillen-Melville said. “We always try to have high expectations. It’s just, now, they know what it feels like, and they have the experience of knowing what it takes to get there and accomplish something like that.”
“I think we learned how to win,” said senior Callie Schapekahm, one of the team’s 2014 captains.
Three Eagan players, including Schapekahm, were part of AAU national champion club teams at various age levels this summer with Northern Lights. Schapekahm was also part of a Northern Lights squad that went abroad for a successful run of matches, capped off with winning the Global Challenge tournament in Croatia.
Two of her Eagan teammates — sophomores Brie Orr and Taylor Olstad — were AAU All-America selections. Orr was selected as the MVP of the national tournament.
The Wildcats return a talented lineup to the court this fall, despite losing three seniors to graduation from last year’s title-winning team.
“We have a lot of talent returning at all positions on the court, and some of the younger players coming up are really good,” Schapekahm said. “It’s hard to know where we’ll be [as a team] exactly, since we haven’t gotten going yet, but I think we’ll be able to do a lot of really good things this year.”
Eagan won four state titles in a seven-year stretch from 1997–2003, but until last season’s title run, it had not made it through the section tournament since 2006.
“And, to be honest, in the first few weeks of [last] season, state wasn’t even a thought,” Gillen-Melville said. “Then as the season went on, young players started coming together for some pivotal roles and we started playing really well. After a while, it was like, ‘Huh, maybe we can do this.’ ”
Eagan went 18-2 through the regular season, its only loss in the South Suburban Conference coming against rival Lakeville North. The Wildcats defeated the Panthers in the Class 3A, Section 3 championship match.
Gone this year is star outside hitter Taylr McNeil, last season’s Gatorade Player of the Year for Minnesota, who is starting her freshman season at South Carolina.
But Eagan has five seniors, including Madeline McNeil, Taylr’s sister, who also plans to play for the Gamecocks.
“Our expectations are really high,” Schapekahm said. “I can’t say, ‘We’re going to win,’ but I feel really good about the team that we have.
“We’re always going to have those really high expectations, but we also know how hard it is to get to that goal [of a state title]. Hopefully, that’s where we end up. We’ll see.”