SAINT PAUL - Playing at the Xcel Energy Center at the end of the volleyball season can oftentimes be bittersweet, such as it was for the Minneota Vikings on Friday.
Second-seeded Minneota was poised to avenge a 2012 state semifinal loss to third-seeded Southwest Christian Friday in the 2013 Class A semifinal, but it wasn't meant to be. The Stars (26-9) outlasted the Vikings (30-4), advancing to the championship match with a 3-2 win (25-16, 18-25, 25-18, 18-25, 15-10) and dashing the hopes and dreams for an extremely talented Minneota team.
"We fought our hearts out, but it just wasn't good enough, I guess," Minneota senior setter Megan Larson said.
Minneota players show their emotions after dropping a five-set match to Southwest Christian during the semifinals of the MSHSL Class A Volleyball State Tournament on Friday at the Xcel Center in St. Paul.
The semifinal was a bittersweet one for Larson, who collected 54 set assists in the five-set loss, recording her 1,000th set assist this season when junior Taylor Reiss crushed the ball to the floor on the fourth play of the match. Larson currently has 1,051 set assists this year and nearly 3,000 in her high school career.
"It was a good feeling, but getting a win is more important to me," Larson said. "My team means a lot to me."
While Larson's impressive milestone was somewhat overshadowed by the loss against Southwest Christian, it certainly doesn't diminish her or her team's accomplishments this year or in the past.
The dynamic duo ? Larson and Reiss ? have a long list of accolades, including multiple All-State honors. And as a team, the Vikings have also recorded three straight third-place finishes at state, which head coach Steph Hennen feels is important to remember.
"One loss does not define you," Hennen said. "We have to remind our kids, and myself, that a lot of teams dream about coming up here and finishing their season here and we're one of the fortunate ones who got to do that this year. We're very fortunate that our season is going to end here in St. Paul. But we want to end it with a win."
While disappointed that they fell just short of the championship match, Minneota is hoping to regroup for today's third-place contest at 11 a.m. against fourth-seeded Win-E-Mac (31-4).
"We have a very strong group of senior girls who have done tremendous things for our program and we are going to miss them like crazy. We need to rally together and get them a win (today). We need to send them out with a win."
After losing the first and third sets to the Stars, Minneota battled back in the fourth set. After getting down 3-0 and 5-2, the Vikings began to pick up the pace, evening the score at 6-all on a SWC hitting error and taking a 7-6 lead on a kill from Reiss, who had an outstanding performance, contributing 28 kills, 26 digs and two ace blocks in the contest.
The Stars, led by Division I recruit Mackenzie Horkey, who hammered down 36 kills in the matchup, were able to trade points back and forth until tow kills and an ace serve from Larson gave the Vikings a 12-8 edge.
Minneota continued to build a lead, taking a 20-15 lead on a kill from senior Molly Hennen, who chipped in with 17 kills and 19 digs in the match. Eventually, the team would take the set 25-18, forcing a fifth and final one.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, the fifth set didn't start or end like they had hoped. The Stars picked up two of their six blocks, and combined with a Minneota hitting error, took a 3-0 lead.
After the score was leveled at 3-all, with two kills from Reiss and one from Hennen, SWC collected two kills from Horkey, a block and two Viking hitting errors to earn an 8-3 advantage.
I thought my kids battled really well," Coach Hennen said. "They obviously have Mackenzie Horkey, who does everything for them. And the rest of them played good enough defense to slow us down. I think we matched up against them well on paper. But couple of times, we couldn't find the court and hit some balls out of bounds or passed some out-of-bounds balls that we shouldn't have at times."
While down, Minneota certainly wasn't out and fought back to get to within two points with three straight kills from Reiss. But again, Horkey lit up at the net, recording three more kills to give the Stars an 11-7 lead.
"I thought going in to Set 5, we had the momentum," Coach Hennen said. "We won Set 4 and were riding that into the fifth set, but when you only play to 15, it goes fast. You don't have many chances for errors and you have to recover right away, and we weren't able to do that (Friday). We let them build too big of a lead. We got into a hole and we couldn't get out of it."
After a timeout, Reiss and Shelby Corbin collected kills to put the score at 12-9, but SWC was able to close out the set with two Horkey kills and a Viking hitting error. The Stars will face Fillmore Central in the championship matchup today.
"When we lost Set 1, it would have been real easy to play scared," Coach Hennen said. "We came down here last year and got big-time swept by them. We knew we didn't want that to happen (Friday) and we talked about that. Our kids wanted to do better, and they did. I guess our best (Friday) just wasn't quite good enough.
But now we have to come out and go after it (today) and come home with a medal. We'll have a little team meeting (Friday) and try to regroup, get back together and finish our season strong."
While still struggling with the emotional loss, Larson agreed, noting that there was still one game remaining in the season.
"Knowing that you don't have next year really sucks," she said. "But this season has been a lot of fun. It was a great year. I think we'll be able to regroup (Friday), start over. It's a new day (today). I hope we end on a win."
SWC 25 18 25 18 15
Minneota 16 25 18 25 10
MINNEOTA INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
Serving (good-att-aces): Payton Boerboom 18-18-2, Molly Hennen 21-22-0, Megan Larson 17-17-2, Taylor Reiss 14-14-0, Shelby Corbin 13-14-1, Kalley Kloos 7-7-0, Amber Engels 2-2-0.
Kills: Reiss 28, Hennen 17, Corbin 9, Krista Maeyaert 4, Larson 2.
Digs: Reiss 26, Hennen 19, Corbin 16, Larson 14, Boerboom 12, Kelsey Maeyaert 10, Krista Maeyaert 7, Amber Engels 7.
Set Assists: Larson 54.
Blocks: Larson 2, Reiss 2, Kelsey Maeyaert 1, Krista Maeyaert 1.