It's not a game-plan Minnetonka coach Karl Katzenberger would draw up, but for his Skippers, a little adversity proved exactly the ingredient they needed.
The Skippers (26-6) lost the first set of their quarterfinals match to Moorhead on Thursday and trailed late in each of the ensuing three sets only to pull out victories en route to a 21-25, 26-24, 28-26, 25-23 triumph at Xcel Energy Center.
"They respond to being backed into a corner," Katzenberger said.
"Once we start getting down, it's definitely a motivator for our team," senior outside hitter Skyler Germann said. "We have players that come in with intensity and they just rev it up for the team."
The Skippers, who were last in the tournament in1976, trailed 23-20 in the second set before strong front-row play from Germann and Kali Engeman, who had two kills and a block, won the set.
Things looked even worse for Minnetonka in the third set. Moorhead (19-12) controlled play from the outset and built a 24-17 lead, but the Skippers responded.
"One step at a time," Germann said. "If you look ahead and say, like, 'We need six points,' it gets to be too much. We just had to stay focused on one point at a time."
In the fourth set, Minnetonka trailed 22-18. This time, the comeback was fueled by strong serving by Engeman, who served five consecutive points, and some errors by their now-rattled opponents.
"We felt a little bit of that chokehold setting in," Moorhead coach Char Lien said. "If we would have found that one big hit, that one big dig, that might have been enough to calm us down a little bit."
Germann led the Skippers with 23 kills, while Engeman had 15 kills and four blocks.
Wayzata 3, Elk River 0: Coach Scott Jackson thought his Trojans played their best match of the season in the Section 5 championship against St. Michael-Albertville.
And, he added, Wayzata (29-3) had its best practice of the year Wednesday. The rest of the Class 3A field can now say they've been put on notice.
The No. 2-seeded Trojans showed just how good they can be with a 25-14, 25-23, 25-16 victory over the Elks (16-16).
"This does not feel at all like we are finishing," Jackson said. "It feels like we're climbing. So that's a lot of fun."
Sophie Jesewitz had 13 kills, Elizabeth Helmich added 11 and Kate Long chipped in with nine for Wayzata, which finished with a hearty .341 attack percentage. Setter Olivia Johnson was the catalyst for all of the offensive fireworks, distributing 33 assists.
Wayzata trailed 9-7 in the first set, but settled in and reeled off nine of the next 10 points to take control of the set.
Elk River battled gamely in the second set and took a 22-21 lead. But Wayzata rallied again, with Jesewitz getting two kills and a block in a 25-23 result.The Trojans ran out to a 7-0 lead in the third set and cruised to victory.
"In the second set, we got challenged with some big points we had to find our way through," Jackson said. "That's going to serve them well Friday."
Eagan 3, St. Louis Park 0: The accomplished Wildcats, making their seventh consecutive state tournament appearance and with three Class 3A championships in tow, lived up to expectations against the Orioles, making their first appearance, rolling to a 25-16, 25-12, 25-16 victory.
But here's the big news: The Wildcats, despite their gaudy reputation, get jitters in big situations, just like everybody else.
"For some reason, we were tight and a little bit nervous," Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said.
The Wildcats (30-0) know that their reputation precedes them wherever they go. Their response?
"We just have to try to put it out of our heads," senior Christine Jurgens said.
They may have seemed tight to Gillen, but Eagan looked comfortable to the untrained eye. Junior setter/hitter Kennedi Orr had 15 kills and 23 assists. Sienna Ifill had 10 kills for Eagan, which won with a relentless offense and depth that St. Louis Park simply couldn't match.
The Wildcats finished with 48 kills and a .376 attack percentage and forced St. Louis Park into an attack percentage of just .093.
Despite the loss, St. Louis Park coach Whitney Meierotto-Simon said the Orioles (24-7) were thrilled with the experience and what it portends.
"Just five years ago, St. Louis Park volleyball was only recording two wins," she said. "Just to be representing the school in the tournament, we are so excited and proud to be here."