CLASS A VOLLEYBALL: Sharp focus

Top-ranked Minneota looks to continue its momentum in opening round of state

Independent file photo Members of the Minneota volleyball team celebrate after scoring a point during a match at the Southwest Challenge on Sept. 8. The Vikings will begin their state tournament play today against New York Mills.

MINNEOTA – The Minneota volleyball team’s bid for a Class A title came up just short a season ago when the Vikings fell to Mayer Lutheran in the championship match. This time, the Vikings are focused on rewriting a different ending and are coming into the state tournament on a roll.

Minneota enters with an overall record of 33-1 and is coming off a clean sweep over Adrian in the Section 3A Championship on Saturday. Vikings coach Hayley Fruin said it feels good to return to the state tournament and is glad to see that their hard work throughout the season has paid off to get there.

“It feels good; your expectations are high to start the season but you hope everybody stays healthy, focused and works hard and it pays off,” Fruin said. “We’re glad it did.”

Minneota is making its 12th overall appearance in the tournament. Meanwhile, their opponent New York Mills is making its third overall trip to state and first since 1981.

Fruin said they haven’t seen much of New York Mills this year, but knows the Eagles will present a tough challenge and will be led by a strong mix of juniors and seniors.

“They’ve got an agressive setter that can score quite a bit,” Fruin said. “Of course they’re going to be scrappy and that’s all we kind of really know about them. We haven’t really gotten a chance to see them or anything.”

Fruin said their main focus during practice to prepare is to clean up some things on both sides of the net and make sure they maintain their aggressiveness on defense, especially up front.

“Just a lot playing this week and cleaning up a couple of things; staying crisp and disciplined on defense and of course blocking we talk about all the time,” Fruin said. “Just working together as much as we can and get as much playing time in as we can.”

The Vikings possess a barrage of different skill players, led by senior outside hitter Lydia Sussner. Sussner, who was announced as a finalist for the Ms. Baden Volleyball Award, is joined by fellow seniors Lizzy Gillingham, Morgan Kockelman, Brooklyn Nelson and Sydney Larson as well as junior Morgan Hennen, sophomore Abby Hennen and freshman Natalee Rolbiecki.

“I think each kid knows their role and we’ve kind of said all year that 1 through 15 on our team, everyone’s bought into their role and doing their job and playing their part,” Fruin said. “Hopefully it pays off and of course we want to end up on top and hope that we did enough to get there.”

Kockelman added that their main goal is to just stick together as a team and not focus on individual success.

“Just to play our best and play together; we need to stick together and not be our own separate things,” Kockelman said. “We have a saying, ‘Let’s always be a country, not an island’, meaning we all need to play together. That’s basically our goal going in.”

The Vikings also earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Fruin is glad to see their hard work rewarded with a high seed and feels they’ve done a good job of keeping their focus on what they want as a team this season.

“It’s nice to see that hard work has paid off,” Fruin said. “Obviously we’ve been on the top ever since halfway through the year and the girls’ expectations have been high and the pressure’s been on and targets have been on us, but I think we’ve held our own with staying consistent and focused.”

Today’s quarterfinal matchup begins at 1 p.m. Going into the tournament, Fruin knows the pressures of playing at the biggest level and wants to make it count in their final few games.

“We love this time of year,” Fruin said. “Of course the pressure is on and we know that we’re guaranteed three more games and that’s it, so let’s make it three good ones and let’s play our best.”

Gillingham said they’re looking forward to getting another opportunity to play on a big stage and they want to end the season strongly.

“Just to end things on a high note and play together well,” Gillingham said. “It’s just so cool to play on the Xcel, walking in there and seeing the other teams play before you. It’s awesome.”

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