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John’s Journal: The Giant Killers From Russell-Tyler-Ruthton

After Topping Minneota, Knights Are One Win From State Title

Posted: Friday, November 10, 2023 - 5:53 PM


The Russell-Tyler-Ruthton bench celebrates a point.



new life

New Life Academy's Rylee DaCosta and her family have a special relationship with Xcel Energy Center.

The axis of small-school volleyball in Minnesota shifted on the evening of Nov. 4. Inside a jam-packed R/A Facility at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minneota and Russell-Tyer-Ruthton met for the Section 3 championship and trip to state.

The talented Paul Raymo was broadcasting the action on KLQP radio in Madison, as well as tweeting results after each set.

If anyone had been wagering, Minneota seemed like the safe pick. After all, the Vikings are one of the legendary Minnesota volleyball programs, with 15 trips to state between 2001 and 2022 and state titles in 2006, 2009, 2018, 2019 and 2022. The Knights of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, meanwhile, had never won a section title and had never played at state.

Minneota and R-T-R had faced off twice during the regular season, with Minneota winning both times.

Paul’s Tweets told the story…

At 9:15 p.m. he posted this: Minneota 25 RTR 22 set 4 Going to a set 5!!! Who's going to state! Listen on KLQP.

And this dispatch went out at 9:40: RTR 17 Minneota 15 set 5! Congratulations to the Knights.

The R-T-R fans rushed the court and the celebration was on. It felt for all the world like the Knights had won a state title, but that big victory was just one step on the path.

They have completed two more steps this week at Xcel Energy Center, where they are the No. 1 seed in the Class 1A state tournament. The Knights defeated Pine River-Backus 3-0 in Thursday’s quarterfinals and got past New Life Academy 3-1 in Friday’s semifinals. They will play for the state title on Saturday against Mayer Lutheran.

R-T-R coach Daynica Brown, a 1998 graduate of the school, knows as well as anyone how much work has gone into the team’s success and what this week’s mission was.

After beating Minneota, she told the girls to relish the moment.

“I told them to enjoy it, and then we’ll be at practice on Monday and we'll regroup because our mission wasn't done at that point,” she said Friday. “That was just one of the goals that the girls had. So they had to refocus. That was a big moment for the R-T-R program. But we knew we still had three more wins left. The state tournament title is our ultimate goal.”

R-T-R will take a record of 29-6 into the final, with the two losses to Minneota as well as defeats against Marshall, Champlin Park, Watertown, S.D., and a split of two matches with Mayer Lutheran (28-6).

If there’s ever been a case of the top-seeded team feeling little or no outside pressure, it’s the Knights.

“Not everybody knows us because we've been overshadowed for a long time,” Brown said. “So I don’t think the girls really felt all that much pressure.”

Knights senior Abigail Carr, who has a team-high 30 kills in two games at state, said the group could handle any pressure they felt.

“There was definitely some pressure. I think we all kind of feel a lot of pressure being here for the first time ever, but I think it's manageable. I think we're confident, especially because we beat Minneota. We have lots of confidence.”

A Season To Remember For Delano

In Class 3A, Delano will play for a state championship on Saturday. That match will end a season to remember for the Tigers. They defeated Byron 3-0 in Friday’s semifinals and will face three-time defending champ Marshall on Saturday.

Delano’s only losses this season were against Wayzata and New Prague, the teams that will play for the Class 4A championship.

“Last night I was talking with the other coaches and that was in my mind; ‘Oh my gosh, New Prague and Wayzata, they're going to the championship round and those are our only losses,’ ” said coach Becca Rue. “Just kudos to this team. I mean, they can play with anyone in the state. So that's really fun.”

A Wonderful Season And High Hopes For 2024

If anyone is putting together a list of volleyball teams to watch next season, Mabel-Canton should be high on the list. After a 21-year drought, the Cougars played at state a year ago and finished third in Class 1A.

They returned to the big show this week and will meet New Life Academy in Saturday’s third-place game. Friday’s 3-1 loss to Mayer Lutheran in the semifinals was only the Cougars’ second defeat this season, the first coming against Minneota.

Mabel-Canton coach Lonnie Morken said he will begin thinking about 2024 after the last point of the third-place contest. The Cougars have no seniors on the 2023 roster – a first in Morken’s 30-year coaching career -- and reaching state for the third year in a row will be among the goals.

“We want to finish strong tomorrow,” Morken said. “And we want to honor the season that we've had thus far and end with a win.”

Morken talked about the strength of Section 1 (which Mabel-Canton won) and Section 3 (won by R-T-R). Among the top 10 teams in the final Class 1A rankings by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association, seven came from those two sections: 1. Minneota (3), 2. Mabel-Canton (1), 3. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (3), 5. Kenyon-Wanamingo (1), 6. Canby (3), 7. Fillmore Central (1), and 8. MACCRAY (3).

“The thing about Section 1 and Section 3, those two sections are just the deepest in volleyball in the state,” Morken said. “Every year there are three or four ranked teams in Section 1 and three or four ranked teams in Section 3.”

On The Road, Thinking Of Home

Wild equipment manager Tony DaCosta was on the road with the NHL team during the state volleyball tournament, but his mind was on volleyball. That’s because his daughter, Rylee DaCosta, is a senior libero on the New Life Academy volleyball team.

State Volleyball Tournament

Class 4A Semifinals

Wayzata defeated Anoka 3-0

New Prague defeated Stillwater 3-0

Class 3A Semifinals

Marshall defeated Detroit Lakes 3-1

Delano defeated Byron 3-0

Class 2A Semifinals

Rush City defeated Southwest Christian 3-0

Pequot Lakes defeated Caledonia 3-2

Class 1A Semifinals

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton defeated New Life Academy 3-1

Mayer Lutheran defeated Mabel-Canton 3-1

Saturday’s Championships

1A: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton vs. Mayer Lutheran

2A: Rush City vs. Pequot Lakes

3A: Marshall vs. Delano

4A: Wayzata vs. New Prague

--MSHSL senior content creator John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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