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John’s Journal: Parents And Daughters, Coaches And Players

Eagan, Wayzata, Minnetonka Volleyball Have Family Ties

Posted: Wednesday, November 8, 2023 - 7:03 PM


Anoka students cheer for the Tornadoes during the state volleyball tournament.


First-year Eagan coach McKenna Melville.

Parents and daughters was a theme during Wednesday’s Class 4A volleyball state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. One compelling example was the Eagan coaching staff, where first-year head coach McKenna Melville took over as her mother, Hall of Famer Kathy Gillen, moved into an assistant’s role after leading the Wildcats to seven state titles in a career that began when she became the school’s first head coach in 1989.

McKenna, who played for her mom and completed an All-American career at Central Florida last year, led the Wildcats to a 22-8 record coming into the state tournament. Fourth-seeded Eagan lost a five-set match to fifth seed Anoka in Wednesday’s quarterfinals and will meet Edina in the consolation bracket on Thursday.

Getting to state was the objective all along, Melville said, but not just getting to state.

“That was the goal. It's always the vision,” she said. “I knew what it was to be at state, I know the feeling, I know the adrenaline. I knew what it took and so ultimately, that is the goal. But I don't think the goal in my brain ever stopped at, ‘Oh, let's get to the state tournament.’ A goal in everyone's head should never be, ‘Oh, I just want to be in the state tournament.’ So there are things we can learn from and I think now we're the new kids on the block again, and we're back and we're ready to go. Being in the state tournament is a true honor for everyone.”

While Anoka and Eagan were competing Wednesday, a match between top-seeded Wayzata and Edina was being played on the other court. After Wayzata rolled to a 3-0 win, Trojans coach Scott Jackson – a 27-year coach who was inducted into the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame on Tuesday evening -- went from the postgame interview session back to the arena so he could watch his daughter play.

Hannah Jackson is a 6-foot-1 junior for Minnetonka. The unseeded Skippers fell to second-seed New Prague 3-1 as Hannah finished with eight kills and four digs.

The ‘Massive’ Trojans

Wayzata is clearly the team to beat in Class 4A, because the Trojans have won the last three big-school state championships and are undefeated (32-0) this season. There were no surprises for Edina in meeting its Lake Conference rival on Wednesday, but that didn’t mean anything was easy.

“They're actually massive,” said Edina junior Emelia Bireley. “They play at such a faster speed because they're taller, they're able to hit higher in the air, they jump higher. They're just such a bigger presence than any of the other teams that we've played before.”

Wayzata’s roster includes future University of Minnesota players and sisters Stella (6-foot-2) and Olivia (6-4) Swenson, along with 6-3 Avery Jesewitz. Wayzata had 43 kills compared to 18 for Edina, with Olivia Swenson getting 13. Stella Swenson had 32 assists.

Ponies Are In Peak Form

In a 4A quarterfinal upset, unseeded Stillwater knocked off third-seeded Rogers 3-2. The Ponies lost the first two sets before rallying for the win.

“What a comeback, but it's not a shock at all,” said Stillwater coach Sara Baumgard. “It might be a shock to the fans, but this is like the M.O. of this team …  the grit, the perseverance. The mental toughness of this team is hands down the best I've coached. I'm so proud of them.”

The Ponies came to state with a record of 19-9 and a season that they described as up and down.

“I feel like we've gone through multiple different seasons,” said Baumgard. “There are things that happen, but they have used it to turn it into being like, ‘OK, you're taking my spot, but I still love you. I still support you.’ And so that growth that has happened this year is insane. And that's really exciting. And I think that's why we've been so successful is because all the people on this team want the best for our team.”

Senior Mackenzie Peters, who led the Ponies with 17 kills, said, “Everyone is everyone’s biggest cheerleader, which is another huge thing that you don't see in many teams. It's so refreshing for everyone because if this person goes in, everyone's wanting them to succeed, and if this person goes in, everyone's wanting them to succeed, too. Everyone wants each other to succeed on the team and it's something you don't see often.”

From Marshall, Plenty Of Miles And Hours

Dan Westby has seen a lot during several decades as a multi-sport coach at Marshall High School. He also has spent a lot of time on the road, especially when it comes to state tournaments.

Marshall, in southwest Minnesota, is a three-hour drive from Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, the site of this week’s volleyball tournament. Westby has been the Tigers’ head volleyball coach since 2004 and this week the team is making its 17th trip to state. He also has led the Marshall girls basketball team (which he has coached since 2009) to state seven times.

Throw in six trips to state as a member of the boys basketball coaching staff, and the miles and hours Westby has spent on the road between Marshall and the Twin Cities for state tournaments is really something to behold.

The math works out something like this: 30 trips to state tournaments equals 9,500 miles and 180 full days on the highway. That number of days, 180, is about the number of days in a school year, so Westby has had a good excuse for being absent at tournament time. And 9,500 miles? That’s almost impossible to comprehend.

The top-seeded Tigers opened the Class 3A volleyball tournament by defeating DeLaSalle 3-0 and will meet Detroit Lakes in Friday’s semifinals. Marshall is attempting to win its third consecutive volleyball state championship. Last year’s title was its eighth, a state record.

Volleyball And Football

Schools with teams competing at state in both volleyball and state football this week…






Mayer Lutheran



Volleyball State Quarterfinals

Class 4A


Wayzata defeated Edina 3-0

Anoka defeated Eagan 3-2

New Prague defeated Minnetonka 3-1

Stillwater defeated Rogers 3-2

Class 3A

Marshall defeated DeLaSalle 3-0

Detroit Lakes defeated Grand Rapids 3-0

Delano defeated Mahtomedi 3-0

Byron defeated Monticello 3-0


Class 2A

Southwest Christian vs. Wadena-Deer Creek

Rush City vs. Annandale

Pequot Lakes vs. Redwood Valley

Caledonia vs. Concordia Academy

Class 1A

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton vs. Pine River-Backus

New Life Academy vs. West Central Area

Mayer Lutheran vs. Ely

Mabel-Canton vs. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River 

--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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