CLASS A VOLLEYBALL: Late second-set push helps top-seeded Vikings defeat New York Mills 3-0

Photo by Sam Thiel Members of the Minneota volleyball team celebrate after scoring a point during their Class A Tournament match.

ST. PAUL – Down early in the second set of their Class A quarterfinal match against New York Mills, Minneota volleyball coach Hayley Fruin was forced to burn a pair of timeouts and try and re-align her gameplan back on track.

Her players, who had given the Vikings a quick lead in the match with an opening set win, knew they had to get the momentum back on their side when all momentum signs were pointed in the Eagles’ direction.

Slowly, but surely, the No. 1 seeded Vikings scratched and clawed their way back from the depths of a six-point deficit and outscored New York Mills 9-1 to claim a come-from-behind win in Set 2, and Minneota opened up their state tournament quest Thursday with a 3-0 (25-14, 26-24, 25-7) victory.

Fruin said her confidence in her players was expressed in the final stages of the second frame and knew her players were going to show their heart in the comeback.

“I definitely used those timeouts early on in that second set, but I do have a lot of confidence in these kids that they can battle back even if we’re down by however many points and we have no timeouts left. They proved it there that second set,” Fruin said. “I think we played a little nervous to start that second set and got a little scared at times, but they battled back and have a lot of heart and showed a lot of grit.”

Entering as the top team in the bracket, Minneota made a quick run to begin the opening set before New York Mills pulled to within four at 13-9. That’s when the Vikings responded with a 6-1 burst highlighted by a Lizzy Gillingham ace made it 19-10 before Minneota took its first double-digit lead of the day en route to a 25-14 Set 1 win.

Looking to continue their momentum, the Vikings found themselves against the wall in Set 2 as the Eagles threw in a combination of heavy hitting and lengthy rallies that spread Minneota’s players all over the court. New York Mills took an 11-6 lead, forcing the Vikings to regroup on multiple occasions.

“When we started going down and they kept scoring, I knew that we had to get just one pass and Morgan Kockelman would find the hitter and put it away,” Abby Hennen said. “But their blocking was playing well and it was tough for us to score, so I knew we couldn’t get frustrated because one of those times, we were going to put it away if we got a good enough pass from Morgan.”

New York Mills appeared on the verge of sending the match to at least four sets by holding a 23-17 lead in Set 2, but Minneota answered with a mind-boggling 34-8 run over the course of the second and third sets to put the match away.

“I definitely knew we weren’t out of it; we practice those situations and come out of a lot of them,” senior middle hitter Lydia Sussner said. “I knew as soon as we got a little bit of momentum on our side that we would be good to go again.”

Set 3 was all Minneota right from the start. The Vikings opened the frame with a pair of aces from Gillingham and a kill from Sussner to take a 5-1 lead before Minneota went on an 11-0 run to take a commanding 16-1 advantage before claiming the final set 25-7.

Sussner led the way with 15 kills while Natalee Rolbiecki added nine and Gillingham had five. Abby Hennen led in digs with 18 while Gillingham chipped in 12 and Morgan Hennen had 10. Kockelman led in set assists with 29.

Sussner said they got off to a slower start than they would’ve liked on offense but they were able to settle in a groove later on in the match.

“I think right away we came out and I don’t know if it was the atmosphere or what, but we were a little off and we ended up tipping a lot of balls,” Sussner said. “Eventually we connected and we were all hitting the ball again.”

As a top seed that reached the state final a year ago, Fruin and Minneota know that nothing is guaranteed and they have to play at their level each point and set.

“On paper, we’re the No. 1 team but we have to play like that at all times. Just because on paper we’re supposed to win doesn’t mean that we’re going to,” Fruin said. “We’ve got to remember to play at our level from the first set until we win three sets and all the way up to point 25. Don’t let up ever and always play loose.”

Minneota (34-1) advances to the semifinal round and will face No. 4 seed Ada-Borup, who defeated No. 5 Carlton 3-1. The match is schedule for today at 1 p.m.

Fruin said they will present some challenges up front and will come out looking to play with lots of energy.

They look pretty good in the front row and of course they’re going to be scrappy,” Fruin said. “We’ll take as many notes as we can and clean it up as we play them.”