A couple of years ago, winning a set against Class 1A juggernaut Bethlehem Academy seemed daunting, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown senior Kamryn Kendall said.
On Saturday the Buccaneers won three of them against their Gopher Conference rival to clinch their first state title on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
Kendall hit 23 kills and 18 digs, as Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (34-3) overcame third- and fourth-set losses to win the fifth set 15-13.
"A lot of people say you can't teach mental toughness," Buccaneers coach Crystal Lamont said, "but I don't believe that any more."
Lamont said her team didn't feel any pressure coming into the state tournament, given the low expectations many had set for them. The Buccaneers had not advanced from their subsection, let alone reached the state tournament, before this season. They were the first girl's sport in the history of the south-central Minnesota school to do so.
That lack of pressure showed in the first two sets, as Waterville-Elysian-Morristown made just three errors and won them 25-17 and 25-18.
"They were attacking us instead of us attack them," said Bethlehem Academy's Madi Strodtman, who had 14 kills. "You can't win that way."
The Cardinals won the third and fourth sets each by a score of 25-23, capitalizing on 13 errors by the Buccaneers.
The fifth set was tied at 13 before Buccaneers senior RaeAhna Harmon hit a kill and Haley Domonoske blocked a Bethlehem Academy shot to clinch the match.
"I'm not sure if it's hit us yet," Harmon said. "We've had so much fun."
Cardinals coach Franz Boelter said he sensed a confidence in the Buccaneers that hadn't been there when the Buccaneers lost to them in September.
Lamont said she agreed, adding that Waterville-Elysian-Morristown's victory over Bethlehem Academy in her nine-year tenure "couldn't come soon enough."
"We talked about empowering each other, and they did," she said.
For Bethlehem Academy (25-8), the loss ended its quest for four titles in five years. The Faribault-based Catholic school has won seven titles since 2002 under Boelter.
"It's funny how two points one direction or the other makes such a difference in the emotions you feel," he said.
Junior Payton Nutter led the Cardinals with 25 kills and added 15 assists, as the team attempted to win its 12th title.