CLASS A VOLLEYBALL: Key serving runs make the difference in Minneota’s state quarterfinal win

Photo by Sam Thiel Minneota's Lizzy Gillingham serves the ball during their match against New York Mills Thursday.

ST. PAUL – During their opening-round match against New York Mills, the Minneota volleyball team had to find a spark in some sort of form if they were going to advance to the semifinal round.

The Vikings were held in check for the most part with their hitting, with only one player reaching double-digit kills in Lydia Sussner (15) and their defense had troubles slowing down the Eagles’ attack to start Set 2.

Instead, the spark that reignited Minneota’s hopes and momentum was found through its aggressive serving, especially in the final two sets of the match.

As a team, the Vikings recorded nine service aces in Thursday’s win over the Eagles, led by Lizzy Gillingham, who had eight of them.

Minneota’s ability to serve tough, especially in key situations, became a storyline throughout the afternoon. During their second-set comeback, the Vikings slowly climbed their way back from a six-point deficit with New York Mills just two points from claiming the set win.

“Obviously when we were down by six or seven, we knew that we had to stop their serving run and come back, but I didn’t doubt us,” Abby Hennen said. “I knew that if we all stayed together and stayed positive we would come together and Lizzy brought us back by her great serving run in the second set.”

The third set saw more of the same from Gillingham and the rest of Minneota, as multiple aces highlighted a big run for the Vikings.

Minneota coach Hayley Fruin said their serving helped set the tone for the rest of the match and were able to take advantage setting up their offense as a result.

“I think we started serving really tough behind that service line. Obviously, Lizzy went on a great run for us and we were just taking advantage of free balls,” Fruin said. “They were giving us free balls and our passes were off the net a little bit at times and we were tipping and finally we kind of took advantage of those plays and came together.”

When asked about her strategy behind the line, Gillingham kept it simple.

“I would just take a deep breath and serve it,” she said as she cracked a smile. “Hayley told me where to serve the ball and I just tried to serve it where she said and it worked.”