ST. PAUL Behind 18 kills and 5 1/2 blocks from sophomore Taylor Reiss, the Minneota Vikings advanced to the semifinals of the 2012 Class A Minnesota State Volleyball Tournament after sweeping North Woods 25-13, 25-17, 25-13 at the Xcel Energy Center Thursday. Reiss led the Vikings in kills, blocks and also scooped up a team-high eight digs.
The second-seeded Vikings (30-3 overall) looked less like the team making its fourth-consecutive appearance in St. Paul and more like a first-time competitor in the early going as they trailed the Grizzlies (23-4) 4-2 before Reiss knocked down her first kill of the match to spark a 6-0 run for Minneota.
"I think even though we've been in this situation before, I think not all of (the girls) have been playing so much here," Minneota head coach Steph Hennen said. "I think they were a little nervous. I think they were a lot excited. I think once we got rolling it was fine."
Photo by Travis Andries
Minneota’s Megan Larson sets the ball to a Vikings teammate during Thursday’s Class A volleyball quarterfinal match against North Woods at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Larson finished the match with 19 set assists in Minneota’s sweep.
Adding to the nerves of the Vikings was their lack of familiarity with their opponent. North Woods, in Cook, advanced to the state tournament by virtue of claiming the Section 7A championship. The Vikings and Grizzlies had no common opponents.
"That's tricky too," Hennen said of entering a game with little knowledge of the opposing team. "We had a little bit of a scouting report on them, but, still, until you actually see them (you don't know)."
The Vikings outscored the Grizzlies 17-9 over the rest of the first set, thanks in part to a 6-0 run to stretch a 14-10 lead to 20-10 with Molly Hennen serving. Combined with Analisa Buysse, Hennen and the Vikings were able to keep the Grizzlies at bay.
North Woods 13 17 13
Minneota 25 25 25
Serving (aces): N-Destinie Villebrun 2, Morgan LaPatka, Darby Youngstrom; M-Analisa Buysse 5, Molly Hennen 2, Shelby Corbin, Faith Laleman.
Kills: N-Youngstrom 7, Tessa Mankus 7; M-Taylor Reiss 18, Hennen 5.
Digs: N-Rachel Harmston 8, LaPatka 5; M-Reiss 8, Hennen 5, Megan Larson 5.
Set Assists: N-Veillebrun 10; M-Larson 19.
Blocks (solo-assist): N-Youngstrom 1-0, Harmston 0-1, Hannah Blake 0-1; M-Reiss 4-3, Larson 0-2, Corbin 0-1, Hanna Prellwitz 0-1, Karissa Bot 0-1.
Minneota trailed at the outset of Set 2 as well, but an 8-0 run with Buysse serving gave the Vikings a 10-3 lead. Buysse capped off the run with back-to-back aces and finished the match with five total.
Viking setter Megan Larson helped Minneota pull away during the set, distributing to five other Vikings while also picking up two kills herself. The second of Minneota's three All-State selections had 19 set assists in the win. Reiss had five kills during the final 9-7 run to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead in the match. Minneota hit .333 percent as a team during the set and .257 over the match. They also held the Grizzlies to -.014 percent for the night.
A major factor in the low hitting percentage for North Woods was the presence of Minneota senior captain Hanna Prellwitz, who was a game-time decision after spraining her ankle in the Vikings' 3-0 win over Dawson-Boyd in the 3A-North sub-section final a week earlier.
But even though the trainer only cleared Prellwitz to play just before warm-ups, the stalwart middle blocker had no intentions of watching her teammates on Thursday.
"I knew when it happened that I was going to play today," Prellwitz said. "I was not going to sit out. I was at least going to give it a try."
Prellwitz said that the ankle is not 100 percent, but the atmosphere inside the "X" keeps her mind off it. "I can tell when I land on it, that's for sure," she said. "But adrenaline is a perfect pain killer. It felt amazing to just know that you're able to help your team."
For her coach, the senior's presence was a weight off not just off her shoulder's, but the entire team's.
"Hanna provides leadership on the court and off the court. The girls don't have to sit and worry about how she's doing. We were very fortunate that Hanna could go and we hope she can keep going all weekend," Hennen said.
During the final set, the Vikings used a 7-0 run with their third All-Stater, Molly Hennen, serving to post an early 8-2 advantage. Hennen served consistently to the back-left portion of the court, forcing errant passes by the Grizzlies and keeping them out of system.
"Our coach told me to serve to 'one,' that's the left position; they couldn't really get a good pass up," Molly Hennen said. "She was kind of cheating me a little bit, so Steph kept telling me to serve it there, so that worked out well."
Steph Hennen said the choice to continue to attack that portion of the floor was dictated by the matchup.
"I think Molly does a nice job of hitting that spot, and I think that with the girls that were back there at that time, I thought she could be successful against them. I thought she did a nice job."
The Vikings are due back on the court today at 3 p.m. when they will face third-seeded Southwest Christian, from Chaska. The Stars (24-10) reached St. Paul after claiming the Section 4A crown and swept Underwood in their state quarterfinal match to reach their appointment with the Vikings.
"It was good to get that game out of our system because we didn't come out fired up and as ready to play," Molly Hennen said of the win over North Woods. "Tomorrow we need to come fired up and we need to play our regular game and come ready to play."