Lakeville South had never played in a volleyball state tournament before, so pre-tournament jitters were to be expected Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. Heck, even coach Stephen Willingham copped to a few butterflies.
It wasn't how the Cougars started that mattered, however. It was how they finished. Lakeville South rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Prior Lake 13-25, 21-25, 25-14, 25-19, 15-11 in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
"Of course, I was nervous," Willingham said. "We're playing one of the best teams in the state, and it's the biggest stage we play on all year."
But the Cougars had two things working in their favor, one significantly more important than the other. They had played in a large arena in the section final in Rochester, and they had Jenny Mosser, the state's most imposing hitter, on their side.
Prior Lake (26-6) took advantage of Lakeville South's inexperience, jumping out to a two-set advantage.
"I think early, they were tight and our serve/receive game was well-played," Prior Lake coach Mike Dean said. "But after set two, we got a little tight."
Actually, the momentum began to swing in the second set. The Lakers won 25-21, but the Cougars were finding their game.
Setting Mosser at every opportunity, Lakeville South (28-3) won the next two sets handily, setting up a deciding fifth set . Mosser started the Cougars with two tip-kills over the Prior Lake blockers, and they never trailed after that.
"She's so hard to block because she's so athletic," Prior Lake setter Ellie Veldman said. "She can change to a tip and there's nothing you can do."
Mosser finished with 29 kills, including in emphatic spike from the left side to close out the match.
Champlin Park 3, Roseville 2: With few close matches this year, the Rebels (30-2) had to dig into their long-term memory banks to help pull out a five-set victory over the gritty Raiders, 25-12, 20-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-8.
"We haven't had a tight match until the last few matches," Rebels coach John Yunker said. "We've played Roseville three times at the state tournament and they've all gone to five sets. I told them then to file it away for the future, and we pulled it out today."
No. 2 seed Champlin Park leaned on the one player no other team can match — Sydney Hilley.
Hilley notched 42 kills to lift the Rebels into the semifinals for the second consecutive year.
"She's a great player and you know she's going to get her kills, but you just have to say, 'Cool, on to the next one,' " Roseville setter Bre Maloney said.
Hopkins 3, Moorhead 0: Coach Vicki Swenson forgot about the postmatch news conference required after the Royals had dispatched of Moorhead 25-14, 25-23, 25-20. Expectations are greater this year, and Swenson had scouting to do for the Royals' semifinals match.
"We just did something no Hopkins team has done before," she said. "We've won consolation, but no Hopkins team has won its first match. It's big deal for us."
The Royals, who qualified but lost both tournament matches last year, played the toughest schedule in the state to steel themselves for a deeper run. Swenson said that experience showed on and off the court.
"To win this time of year, you have to be three things: You have to be healthy, you have to be lucky, and you have to be good," she said. "And we're healthy, I think we're pretty good, and we maybe got a little lucky."
Eagan 3, Grand Rapids 0: As the defending state champion, Eagan is accustomed to being a target. Defeating the Wildcats, or even staying close, can make an opponent's season. So coach Kathy Gillen doesn't even address it, preferring to concentrate on how her team is playing.
"Honestly, we didn't talk about it very much," Gillen said. "In fact, we never talk about our win-loss record or anything like that. We just talked about the jobs we had to take care of."
The top-seeded Wildcats took care of virtually every little job that needed tending, routing underdog Grand Rapids 25-12, 25-7, 25-9. McKenna Melville had 12 kills and Brie Orr added seven kills, 14 set assists and six digs for Eagan (29-1).