This was a test Eagan rarely faced this season. At least, not outside its own gym.
The No. 1-seeded Wildcats were taken to the limit by determined Minnetonka in a Class 3A semifinal Friday, eventually pulling out a five-set victory, 22-25, 28-26, 25-27, 25-18, 15-13.
It was just the second time this season the Wildcats (31-0) had a match go to five sets. Eagan had not lost a set since early October.
"It was a battle," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. "Every ball was contested. Our hitters usually swing and score more easily, but Minnetonka kept every ball alive."
Minnetonka (26-7) won the first set with defense and strong play from frontliners Skyler Germann and Kali Engeman.
It was poised to win the second as well until Eagan saved three set-points en route to a 28-26 victory.
Having played few tight matches all season, Eagan leaned on its regular intense rallies in practice to get through the rough patches.
"We have a lot of battles like that in our own gym," Gillen said. "The girls kind of fell back on training."
The Skippers' commitment to not letting the ball touch the floor served them well in the third set, which they won 27-25.
Minnetonka libero Sarah Stolar said the Skippers felt they could compete with Eagan if they played strong, interconnected defense.
"We knew we could play with them from watching film and sticking together, from the block to the pass to the set," she said.
That bond helped the Skippers, in their first tournament appearance since 1976, get this far, coach Karl Katzenberger said.
"To be frank, on paper this team isn't supposed to be beating some of the teams it has, but they've developed a no-fear attitude," he said. "This is one of the rare, fun years when the sum is greater than the parts."
Eagan controlled the fourth set, winning 25-18 while Katzenberger gave many of his starters an extended rest.
The two teams went back and forth in the fifth set. The Wildcats built a 9-5 lead, then the Skippers battled back to tie. In the end, however, Eagan's attack prevailed 15-13.
Kennedi Orr's 15 kills led four Eagan players with double-digit kills. Germann paced Minnetonka with 18 kills and Engeman added 15.
With the victory, Eagan advanced to the Class 3A championship game for the seventh consecutive year. The Wildcats lost to Champlin Park in the 2018 final.
Wayzata 3, North St. Paul 0: The No. 2-seed Trojans (30-3) are as long and tall and capable as any team in the tournament. It showed in how they just kept pounding away at North St. Paul's defense until the Polars cracked. Wayzata swept 25-16, 25-22, 27-25.
With five strong hitters who range in height from 5-11 Kate Long to the 6-4 trio of Lily Emlong, Katelyn Empkey and Sophie Jesewitz, the Trojans have an intimidating presence.
"We haven't played a team this year that's been that big all around," North St. Paul coach Stephanie Blanda said.
North St. Paul has talent, too, but the shorter Polars have relied largely on energy and enthusiasm to push them along. It was obvious again Friday, but they acknowledged that it was hard to maintain it against the imposing Trojans.
"It feels a little intimidating when your front like is just over 5 feet and theirs is over 6 feet," North St. Paul hitter Lauren Stenman said. "It feels like they're taking a lot from you."
Wayzata's length paid dividends in the first set when some rotation advantages resulted in a 14-3 run and a nine-point win.
North St. Paul battled in the second set to a 13-13 tie, but again Wayzata's attack wore down the Polars, leading to a victory by three.
The Polars (24-6) were on course to win the third set, leading 24-18, but Wayzata reeled off six consecutive points en route to a match-clinching 27-25 victory.
"We all looked at each other in the huddle and said, 'One point at a time. We can do this,' " said Wayzata senior Elizabeth Helmich of the rally.
Wayzata coach Scott Jackson had an inkling his team would contend for a state title this season but said it's taken a little longer than expected to get the anticipated results.
"We're still climbing," Jackson said. "… Maybe there's so much in us that it takes a little longer to get there. But those last two matches were our best two matches of the season."