Prior Lake, Moorhead, Lakeville North and Eagan win in state quarterfinals
CC McGraw is not a big hitter. In fact, not a hitter at all. She doesn’t set, although she can. What the Prior Lake senior does better than anyone else in the state is defend. And she’s so good, teams scheme to avoid her, which is a difficult task indeed.
Hopkins had an attack planned Thursday, all dedicated to hitting away from McGraw.
Easier said than done.
With McGraw repeatedly reviving points that seemed destined to go against her team, Prior Lake swept Hopkins 25-22, 25-20, 25-21 in the Class 3A state volleyball quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.
“We wanted to go away from CC McGraw and the two-thirds of the court she covers,” Hopkins coach Vicki Swenson said. “Certainly not force it away from her, but if you can …”
For the most part, they couldn’t. With McGraw, Haley Stolt and Katie Brostrom digging well and passing with precision, the Lakers generated a .273 kill percentage as a team, impressive given Hopkins’ defensive mind-set.
“We knew there would be some long rallies,” Prior Lake coach Mike Dean said. “Our girls just tried to stay focused and control our side of the ball.”
Control that starts with McGraw, who will play for Minnesota next season.
“Honestly, it’s just experience,” McGraw said. “I’ve been playing this for so long. My ability to read the game and anticipate the ball are pretty critical.”
A little want-to doesn’t hurt, either.
“And I have a lot of grit,” she said. “I never want to give up on balls.”
Moorhead 3, Champlin Park 2: Looking for their first victory in the quarterfinals since 1996, the Spuds rallied to defeat undermanned Champlin Park in the tightest 3A quarterfinal, 25-18, 14-25, 17-25, 25-21, 15-9.
Champlin Park, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, played without two top players who were suspended for one match after an outcry at the school about a social media post criticized as racially inappropriate. The players spent the match on the bench in street clothes.
“We pushed it to five. A lot of the girls played a different role, but they played really hard,” Rebels coach John Yunker said. “I’m proud of the whole team.”
Moorhead won the first set, but Champlin Park rallied to win the next two.
“I was really proud of the way … that everybody stepped up,” Champlin Park junior setter Izzy Ashburn said. “Some people led a little bit more than usual, and it was really exciting to see.”
Moorhead, which had lost in the first round in its seven previous tournament appearances, rallied in the fourth set to tie the match.
“We got a little shook after that second game,” Moorhead coach Char Lien said. “We started playing too hard. We just told them to stay within themselves and good things would probably happen.”
The Spuds, hitting aggressively and changing up their service attack, found holes in the Champlin Park defense in the deciding fifth set and pulled away.
“In the fifth set, we were believing in each other and coming in as a team,” outside hitter Brook Carney said.
Lakeville North 3, Stillwater 0: After a season of physically demanding practices, what Lakeville North was asked to do in its three-set victory over Stillwater seemed easy.
The Panthers shut down Stillwater’s attack, holding the Ponies to just a .018 hitting percentage, and cruised to a 25-22, 25-14, 25-19 victory.
“Our defense was incredibly tough,” Panthers coach Sherri Alm said. “What’s been exciting is that they’re willing to get hit by really hard balls and go for some tough balls.”
The bumps and bruises suffered in practice became badges of honor as the season wore on.
“It’s lot more rewarding to get [the ball] up and get hit really hard than to let it go out,” setter Amanda Burger said. “I’ll take the bruise over not getting the ball up.”
Eagan 3, Forest Lake 0: The Rangers, making their first state tournament appearance in 15 years, led the two-time defending state champions 6-1 early in the first set. Was an upset brewing?
No. The Wildcats settled down, rallying to win the first set 25-21 and then cruising through the next two, 25-12, 25-16 to reach the Class 3A semifinals for the fifth consecutive year.
“I think it was a little bit of nerves,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen. “I don’t think it matters how many times you’ve been here.”