Eagan rallied against Anoka multiple times during Friday’s Class 4A state volleyball quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center. And the Wildcats successfully fought back several times.
But their final dilemma proved too great to overcome, as fourth-seeded Eagan defeated fifth-seeded Anoka in five sets, 29-27, 28-26, 26-28, 26-28, 15 -4 in a thrilling quarter-final game.
“Yes, fighting from behind is tiring. The whole time you’re trying to pressure, you’re trying to fight,” Eagan coach McKenna Melville said. “This team was a really good defensive team. We knew that coming in and we just had to keep fighting. … We made it harder on ourselves.”
And they almost did it. The Wildcats trailed 18-9 in the second set before rallying to take the extra points. However, they failed to finish the set, so the game ended 2-0.
Eagan continued to start slowly in the sets but won the last two to force a fifth set.
“We are fighters through and through. We never miss a game without doing our best, and that was our best today,” senior setter Ava Bertsch said. “I think no matter what team we play, we say, ‘No, we’re going to fight,’ because that’s who we’re supposed to be.” We fight for each other. … We just won’t give up.”
Eagan’s comeback shifted the pressure on Anoka (26-3), which was making its first state tournament appearance since 2012. Anoka coach Chris Fenwick said his team “thrives from pressure.”
As usual, sophomore Hayden Reeder’s attitude at the start of the fifth semester was simple: “We’re going to crush this.” They did, controlling the entire set en route to an impressive finish.
“They played with a lot of heart and desire,” Fenwick said, “and they showed that they are definitely the quality team we thought they were at the beginning of the year, and we’ve only just proven that.”
Logan Brent led Anoka with 28 kills, while Reeder managed 24. The Tornadoes will face Goliath — er, three-time defending champion Wayzata — in the semifinals at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Trojans defeated Edina in three sets (32-0) on Wednesday.
A battle with the state’s powerhouse, with a spot in the state championship at stake. Not bad for a program that hasn’t been released in over a decade.
“When you watch Anoka volleyball, you don’t really expect them to show it to people,” Reeder said. “We definitely do and we have confidence. For me personally, the underdog is the best.”
Eagan was a bit of a surprise after defeating runner-up East Ridge in the sectional final. Still, first-year Wildcats coach McKenna Melville envisioned her program in the state.
“I knew what it meant to be in the state. I knew the feeling, I knew the adrenaline. … I knew what was important,” said Melville, who played for Eagan as a player. “At the end of the day that’s the goal, but I don’t think the goal in my head ever stopped at, ‘Oh, let’s get to the state tournament.’ The goal in anyone’s mind should never be, “Oh, I just want to get to the state tournament.”
“So those are things we can learn from and I think now we’re the new kids on the block again and we’re back and ready to go.”