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John's Journal: Mission Accomplished For Pequot Lakes

One Year After State Runner-up Finish, Patriots Are Champions

Posted: Saturday, November 11, 2023 - 8:28 PM


Russell-Tyler-Ruthton players celebrate their Class 1A volleyball championship.

The volleyball team from Pequot Lakes is nothing if not battle-tested. A year ago, the Patriots lost to Cannon Falls 3-0 in the Class 2A state championship match, and that experience set them on the path that led to Saturday’s return to the big stage at Xcel Energy Center.

The Patriots had survived two scary rounds in the state tournament just to get to Saturday’s title match against Rush City, which was also at state for the second year in row. Pequot Lakes lost the first two sets against Redwood Valley in Thursday’s quarterfinals before rallying for a 3-2 win, and followed the same lose-lose-win-win-win format in beating Caledonia 3-2 in Friday’s semifinals.

They didn’t mess around quite as much against Rush City, sweeping to a 25-18, 25-22, 25-22 victory and their first state title. Winning the final five sets at state put a big, impressive stamp on the Patriots’ championship season.

“Knowing that we're in the championship and how we finished last year we were like, ‘OK, no messing around,’ ” said senior Lauren Schultz. “ ‘This is it. We want this, let's get it done. No more five-set matches. We know how it's going to end so let's just make it quick."

Patriots setter Aubrey Larson summed up the day nicely: “We've proven all year that we can fight and I feel like this time we were just like, ‘Let's start the fight sooner so we can end it faster.’ ”

This was Pequot Lakes’ fourth appearance in the state volleyball tournament, with trips in 1994 and 2019 before last season. Christine Ganley, who has coached the sport for 18 years, said this team’s accomplishment will be felt by all the players who came before them.

“We've been on the brink before,” she said. “And I'm so proud of this team for accomplishing something that many of the girls have tried as the program kept building, but these guys finally did it. And all the past teams can be proud because they built into this, and they finally did it for the whole program, the school and community.”

The Patriots finished with a record of 30-5, giving them a mark of 120-25 since the beginning of the 2019 season. 

I visited the Patriots on the second day of practice in August and wrote about their quest this fall. The headline on that story read: Pequot Lakes Volleyball Hoping For An Even Better Finish; Confidence Is High After Placing Second At State Last Season.

In that story (found here:, senior Kelsi Martini said, “Most of us had just been to the state tournament to watch, and seeing that as a kid, you're like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that someday.’ So knowing that was something we can work for, I think last year we all just competed in practice. And we were like, ‘OK, we want to do this.’ And then our goals just kept becoming bigger.”

They finally achieved their biggest goal Saturday.

First Title For Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Too

The volleyball team from Russell-Tyler-Ruthton came into the Class 1A championship match a marked team, based on their victory over perennial power Minneota in the Section 3 title match and No. 1 seed at state. The Knights, at state for the first time, completed a magical season with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Mayer Lutheran.

“There are so many generations (of volleyball players) that have put it out there, put all that blood and tears out there and haven't gotten to this point,” said Knights coach Daynica Brown. “And so just getting here to state was a dream for many of them. And then to cap it off with a title? I mean, it was just amazing.”

Marshall, Wayzata Add To Championship Trophy Cases

Marshall in Class 3A and Wayzata in 4A returned to state this year as defending champions, and both teams took home another title.

Marshall defeated Delano 3-0 to win the state title for the third year. The Tigers now own a state-record nine volleyball championships.

Wayzata captured its fourth consecutive Class 4A crown by defeating New Prague 3-0. The Trojans won titles in 2019, 2021 and 2022 (no tournament was held in 2020 because of the pandemic).

--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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