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John’s Journal: State Volleyball Is ‘Icing On The Cake’

It’s A Celebration As Tourney Returns To Xcel Energy Center

Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2021 - 5:57 PM

The 2020 volleyball season was, uh … what exactly? Weird? Oh yes. Abbreviated? For sure. Covid-19 meant fewer matches, no regular-season tournaments and an ending that did not end with a state tournament, which might have been the weirdest thing of all.

Teams just practiced and played, practiced and played, with no real tangible trophy-related goal in sight at the end of it all.

That is now in the rear-view mirror, which was clear when the 2021 state volleyball tournament opened Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul. The crowds were large and loud, the play was top-notch and the mood was one of celebration. As it should be.

It was quite different from the ending in 2020.

“It was November 20 or whatever, there was a ton of emotion and we played our last match at Maple Grove,” said Wayzata coach Scott Jackson. “We had like a mock section tournament and we played a really good Maple Grove team to finish. We had a lot of emotions; there were kids crying and there was a coach crying.”

The Trojans finished 13-0 last season and improved to 32-0 this fall with Wednesday’s Class 4A quarterfinal sweep of Roseville. They have won 52 matches in a row since falling to Minnetonka in October 2019. Wayzata went on to win the state title that year, meaning they are the defending big-school state tournament champions … regardless of the weirdness of 2020.

Still, there were lessons to be learned from last fall.

“It felt abbreviated but we were so thankful for that opportunity to have that time; the most important thing here is that these guys are going to be friends for life,” Jackson said. “They've created an unbreakable bond with one another by playing so hard for one another. There is a huge potential reward at the end of this one. We've had a longer time together so it's all icing on the cake right now.”

Wayzata will meet Rogers in Thursday’s semifinals. The Royals, playing at state for the first time, defeated Lakeville North 3-1 in the opening round. Rogers has a record of 27-4 and is one of only five teams to win a set against Wayzata this season. The Trojans defeated Rogers 3-0 during the regular season and 2-1 in a tournament at St. Michael-Albertville.

“I'm elated with what's happened this year, the way the team has really come together and really developed throughout the season,” said Rogers coach Bo Schmidt. “We flew under the radar, we're the new kids on the block. All season we weren't ranked in the top 10. Our record was 24-4 before the section tournament started and we still didn't crack the top 10. So we're kind of using that like, ‘Hey, we're here guys.’ This is what we can do and we’re just so excited to showcase that here.

“(Wayzata is) an undefeated team going into this semifinal, the oddsmakers are saying we're a long shot, right? … I'm excited. I'm excited because we’ve got nothing to lose. We're going to go out there and play our best game. And we're going to give them all they can handle and when we come out on top, it's going to be that much sweeter.”

The Roseville Raiders, playing at state for the first time since 2016, are also embracing the experience. They will meet Lakeville North in Thursday’s consolation bracket.

Raiders coach Greg Ueland said there were good things to come out of the 2020 season.

“I think we were just all really happy to play last year and it really kind of reminded you of the ‘Why’ behind it,” he said.

“Then you add the fun that this team really thrives on, like there's something out there, we’ve got to prove something, there's something to achieve. And our state tournament is special. I have coached a lot of different sports, I've been to a lot of the state tournaments and we have a lot of great ones in Minnesota. But this one ranks toward the top. Minnesota volleyball is special and for us to be here and to have that goal to work toward is special.”

Roseville senior Sophia Gondek said, “We put out a goal right at the beginning of the season of what we wanted to accomplish, and that was state. I think the whole year we had something to work towards the whole time and we all just worked together. We all acknowledged it and we just worked so hard.”

Welcome back to state, everybody.

State Volleyball Tournament

Wednesday’s Quarterfinals

Class 4A

Wayzata defeats Roseville 25-9, 25-9, 25-14

Rogers defeats Lakeville North 21-25, 25-15, 25-19, 26-24

Eden Prairie defeats Forest Lake 24-26, 24-26, 25-22, 25-18, 21-19

East Ridge defeats Bloomington Jefferson 11-25, 25-17, 25-21, 28-26.

Thursday’s semifinals

1 p.m.: Wayzata vs. Rogers

3 p.m.: Eden Prairie vs East Ridge

Class 3A

Marshall defeats St. Paul Highland Park 25-14, 25-4, 25-10

Grand Rapids defeats Monticello 23-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-16

Kasson-Mantorville defeats Sauk Rapids-Rice 25-16, 25-11, 25-15

New Prague defeats Chisago Lakes 20-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-11

Friday’s semifinals

5 p.m.: Marshall vs. Grand Rapids

7 p.m.: Kasson-Mantorville vs. New Prague

Thursday’s Quarterfinals

Class 2A

9 a.m.

Southwest Christian v Mounds Park Academy

Jackson County Central v Annandale

11 a.m.

Cannon Falls v Hawley

Sauk Centre v Greenway

Class 1A

5 p.m.

Mayer Lutheran v South Ridge

Bethlehem Academy v Breckenridge

7 p.m.

Minneota v Badger/Greenbush-Middle River

Legacy Christian v Walker-Hackensack-Akeley

--MSHSL media specialist 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 

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