ST. PAUL - When your goal entering the state tournament is to come away with the top prize, playing in the third-place game is difficult enough. But on Saturday in the Class A third-place game at the Xcel Energy Center, the Minneota Vikings added another degree of difficulty.
"Everybody's goal is the same thing when they come down here," Minneota head coach Steph Hennen said. "They all want the gold medal at the end of the weekend. We talked about it last night, we talked about it this morning in our pre-game that we are one of three teams here that has the opportunity to medal. And if you lose the third-place match, you don't get a medal. You go home with just a participation trophy, and we did not want to do that. We talked a lot about that. We talked about how many teams in the state would love to be in the position to get a medal and we were one of the fortunate ones that at the end of the season we were going out with a win. That really means a lot to our kids and to our program."
The Vikings fell behind early in the first two sets, trailing fifth-seeded Win-E-Mac 8-2 in Set 1 and 9-1 in Set 2, but rallied to come away with 3-0 victory and their third consecutive bronze medal finish at the state tournament. Though they had to overcome large deficits in the first two sets, the Vikings never trailed in the third set of their 25-19, 27-25, 25-19 victory over the Patriots.
Photo by Travis Andries
The Minneota Vikings volleyball team celebrates after winning the Class A third-place match against Win-E-Mac Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"I think that every game we just start out so slow that we need to come out more fired up and ready to play," Minneota sophomore and All-Tournament selection Taylor Reiss said. "It's (disappointing) that we're not playing for first place, but we wanted to come home with a win."
Considering the struggles the Vikings had with Southwest Christian on Friday, Hennen was leery of the slow start a day later.
"I would say I was a little concerned, but these girls seem to like to battle back," Hennen said. "It didn't work for us yesterday, but obviously it worked for us today. I tried to get them to buy into how much easier it is for us to play with the lead, but it took a little convincing."
Win-E-Mac19 25 19
Minneota25 27 25
Serving (good-att-aces): W-Korbyn Ross 18-20-4, Megan Olson 11-12-1, Brooke Christianson 11-12-0; M-Analisa Buysse 18-20-2, Megan Larson 14-14-0, Taylor Reiss 11-12-2, Faith Laleman 10-11-1, Molly Hennen 10-10-0.
Kills: W-Shelby Kaster 16; M-Reiss 15, Hennen 6, Shelby Corbin 5.
Digs: W-Olson 12, Ross 11, Madison McKeever 11; M-Reiss 16, Hennen 12, Larson 10.
Set Assists: W-Christianson 19, Kaster 12; M-Larson 26.
Blocks (solo-assist): W-Kaster 0-3, Kylee Mandt 0-3; M-Reiss 2-1, Larson 0-5, Hanna Prellwitz 0-4, Hennen 1-0.
In the opening set, the Vikings clawed back from the initial deficit with a 8-4 run to cut the Patriot lead down to two points. A 4-1 swing for Win-E-Mac had the Vikings trailing 16-11, but Molly Hennen's second kill of the game forced the sideout.
With the ball back in their hands, the Vikings were led on an eight-point run with senior libero Analisa Buysse serving to take their first lead of the day. Buysse picked up two aces during the run and finished the game 18 of 20 serving with a pair of aces.
Minneota played some of its best volleyball of the tournament while outscoring the Patriots 6-3 to close out the set.
"I thought we settled in and played some really good defense," Hennen said. "We kept a lot of balls alive. We didn't necessarily get the best swings that we wanted to on some of them, but they were triple blocking our middles and they were successful. But we were also able to pick up some of that. I thought Megan (Larson) did a terrific job of running our offense. I thought Shelby (Corbin) and Molly (Hennen) did a much better job today of staying outside the block and were able to pick up the balls they were throwing at us. And Faith (Laleman) and (Analisa) just kept a lot of balls alive back there."
With three ace serves from Korbyn Ross, Win-E-Mac took a 9-1 lead to start the second set, but the source of the quick start for the Patriots would ultimately be their undoing. Three key serving errors by the Patriots kept the Vikings in the set while Minneota battled back for the second time in the match.
The Vikings outscored the Patriots 12-5, including a 6-0 run with Larson serving, to cut the Win-E-Mac lead down to one at 14-13, but the Patriots responded with a 6-2 run of their own.
Trailing 20-15, Reiss' fourth kill of the set forced the side out and jump-started a 6-0 run for the Vikings featuring another kill by the Vikings middle hitter and two ace blocks.
"I think the (other) team did a good job of shutting me down, so I just had to do my best blocking and digging," Reiss said.
Reiss had a team-high 15 kills against Win-E-Mac and also led the Vikings with 16 digs and 2 1/2 blocks. She also led the Vikings in digs for the tournament with 34.
"I think I've gotten more opportunities, but towards the end of the year I started working on my passing a lot more and I got a lot better at it," Reiss said.
The Vikings allowed two quick points to the Patriots following the run to fall back behind at 22-21, but then regained the lead with a kill by Corbin and block from senior captain Hanna Prellwitz. The two teams then traded points until the game was tied at 25, but the Vikings would claim the necessary two point advantage after a kill and ace block from Molly Hennen to take a 2-0 lead.
The Vikings led the entirety of the final set establishing a 7-3 lead and riding it to their third place trophy.
The Patriots used a 5-2 run to get within a point of Minneota, but the Vikings responded with a 5-2 run of their own to force a Win-E-Mac timeout.
Win-E-Mac's second timeout of the set followed a kill by Larson, who was also named to the All-Tournament team and finished the match with 26 set assists, giving Minneota a 19-14 lead. Two more points for the Vikings had the bronze medal in sight.
The Patriots actually outscored Minneota 5-4 over the waning moments of the match, but Reiss's final kill of the tournament concluded the season for both teams.
Minneota finished the 2012 season with a 31-4 record.