Three months ago, when his volleyball team was kicking off the season, Wayzata coach Scott Jackson felt the Trojans had state championship potential. In fact, there were times when he pictured a Wayzata vs. Eagan championship match. Two heavyweights closing out the season on volleyball's biggest stage, Xcel Energy Center.
Jackson's vision came true Saturday, and it's safe to say the result lived up to his hopes. Exceeded them actually, both in length and drama.
When it was over, Wayzata had won a tense, back-and-forth five-set marathon, defeating top-seeded Eagan 25-20, 14-25, 25-21, 19-25, 16-14 for its first Class 3A state championship.
"I'm speechless," Jackson said. "It was a grind-out affair, never believing we were done. There were some moments where it was dark and troubled, but we just kept grinding."
With the match tied at two sets apiece, the dramatic fifth set pitted Wayzata's relentless attack against Eagan's depth and versatility. The lead never grew larger than a single point.
Eagan had one chance to close out the match after a kill by Abby Moe made the score 14-13 Wildcats. But Wayzata (31-3) rallied and scored three straight points, the last on a tip kill by senior Kate Long that went against pre-match preparations.
"Going against Scott's words, I tipped on the last point," said Long, who finished with 20 kills, with a laugh. "It's the capital error, but I tipped deep-line on match point. It's the goal, to end your senior year this way."
Said Jackson: "We wanted to go out on the arm of the kid I had the most confidence in at that point, and that was Kate."
Eagan (31-1), awaiting a more powerful attack, couldn't handle Long's change of pace, resulting in match point and setting off a wild celebration.
"It was a battle," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. "Wayzata played a great game. If we play this game 10 times, we probably each win five. It was just great finish to a great season."
Wayzata, attacking from the outset, jumped to a quick lead in the first set and rode it to a five-point victory.
Eagan adjusted in the second set, closing down the alleys that Wayzata was finding with a strong block. The set was practically over before Wayzata countered the adjustment, with Eagan winning the set by 11 to tie the match.
The third and fourth sets settled into a back-and-forth pattern, with each team taking turns making plays, only to see the other come up with answers. Wayzata won the third set by four points, Eagan the fourth by six, setting up the dramatic fifth set.
Sophie Jesewitz led Wayzata with 25 kills and Long added 20. Sophomore Sienna Ifill led four Eagan players with double-digit kills with 13.
For Eagan, it was a third consecutive loss in the state championship game.
"I'm exhausted from it," Gillen acknowledged. "But I can't look back again. Last year, I was super proud of the team and what they did and I'm equally proud of this team. I don't know what we could have done much different."