Volleyball reached a regular-season peak this week, when Wayzata, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, hosted Champlin Park, ranked No. 3 on Tuesday. Wayzata won 21-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-23, and the match revealed plenty about the teams. Here are five observations:
Big-game experience matters
Both coaches, Wayzata's Scott Jackson and Champlin Park's John Yunker, were philosophical when asked the importance of the game. Yunker said playing the Rebels' top rival was important to give his players exposure in high-leverage situations. "Getting kids in this atmosphere was the biggest thing to come out of this night," Yunker said. "If they don't have matches like this, when we get to the section finals and it's packed on both sides and people are screaming and yelling, the emotions and whatever else are going to get away from them. They can dial it back in a little bit after being in a situation like this."
Jackson saw things similarly. "It did feel different in here. It was just a different environment," he said. "I want the kids to have fun and for it to be a fun environment for our school community here, but maybe it's just a little different."
The players love fan support
The game was played in front of a packed house. Wayzata (18-0) is two-thirds of the way through an undefeated season, but it still mattered that such a crowed showed up.
"Our students really came out tonight. It was awesome to see that," senior setter Stella Swenson said. "We had a D.J. here. And Champlin Park didn't have a bigger student section than us, which doesn't happen very often."
Swenson admitted the players were nervous in losing the first set. "We just needed to play loose," she said. "We're volleyball players. We've been doing this for eight years-plus. Like, we know how to play volleyball."
The teams are very close in ability
Wayzata has won three consecutive Class 4A state championships and three straight head-to-head matchups with Champlin Park (13-4), but the gap between the two teams is infinitesimal.
"Prior to this match and through the first two sets of tonight, over the last two years the points are equal," Yunker pointed out. "We've scored an equal amount of points. So now with the last two sets, over the last two years, 18 sets of volleyball, it's only a nine-point difference. So it's always going to come down to the details when we play. One or two points here or there."
Stella and Olivia Swenson and Carly Gilk: Rivals and friends
Three future University of Minnesota players were on the court Tuesday: Wayzata's senior twin-sister tandem of Stella and Olivia Swenson and Champlin Park junior outside hitter Carly Gilk.
Gilk said that before committing to Minnesota last summer, she saw the Swensons largely as competition. It's a little different now.
"Last year, like I would look at them more as rivals because I didn't really know them, but ever since I committed, they've been super nice," Gilk said. "We're friends now. We go to Gophers games together and it's been super fun."
You still want to beat them, though?
"Yes, of course."
Bench players matter. See Maddy Dimler
As on most teams, the best players get most of the playing time. But that doesn't mean backups and reserves aren't valued.
Example: Wayzata senior defensive specialist Maddy Dimler.
Dimler had seen scant playing time this season, but she was ready when Jackson needed her to fill in on the back row, where she dug and passed admirably.
"That's the first she's played significantly all year, and to step in there and do it like that," Jackson said, shaking his head with a grin. "She made a number of great digs for us, got us right back up to Stella's hand. Maddie played really well."
Dimler said she was and wasn't surprised to hear her number called. "I guess we were struggling a little there, so it made sense that I went in," Dimler said. "But, honestly, it was very exciting."