Panthers top Eden Prairie 3-1 in championship
For the second time in three years, the Lakeville North volleyball team is the state champion.
The Panthers won the Class AAA state title on Saturday night beating Eden Prairie 25-21, 25-19, 19-25, 25-18 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
It was a rematch of last year’s state final where Eden Prairie won in a tight 3-2 contest.
This one didn’t go near the length — the Panthers took care of business in four games to win the state title, its second in three years.
“Beating them this year was perfect,” senior Laura Larson said. “Last year it was such a close game. We could taste the victory.”
The girls lost in the state 22-20 in the final match in the state championships last season, so the girls had plenty of motivation knowing how much every point counts.
“It almost felt impossible last year against Eden Prairie,” junior Alyssa Goehner said.
In the rematch, the Panthers took it all back.
“In general the match exhibited both team’s potential,” head coach Walt Weaver said. “We just had a little bit more firepower and our defense was incredible.”
The first game was tied five times, but the Panthers never let the Eagles get ahead after leading 9-4 early on its way to a 25-21 victory.
Goehner was finding all acres of open floor on Eden Prairie’s side with 13 kills in game one, but the girls weren’t firing on all cylinders just yet.
Janae Neuenschwander, Haley Walker and Sami Flattum got into the action in game two. Even Erica Handley, the all-tournament team setter, got into the fun with two kills of her own in the second game as Lakeville North pulled ahead to win 25-19.
Realizing this was it for Eden Prairie in game three, the Eagles stepped it up a several notches. The Eagle defense clamped down with 28 digs, more then they had in all of game one and two combined, and Eden Prairie’s star Sarah Wilhite hit the Panthers hard with nine kills putting the Eagles ahead 17-11, its largest lead of the night.
“They made zero mistakes there,” Goehner said. “There were things we could have done differently, sure, but they were incredible. (Eden Prairie’s) Jamie Cairncross was outstanding. She was everywhere.”
The Panthers cut the lead back down to three, but the lead to was too great as Eden Prairie won 25-19.
“There was nothing we could have done,” Weaver said. “I told them it had nothing to do with us. We were doing what we were always doing. I told them just to go out there and keep doing it and see what happens.”
The players remained calm knowing they had at least two more chances to put it away.
“I think everyone was like, don’t let this go to game five,” junior Abby Monson said. “We just said, it’s 0-0 now going into game four, we got this.”
The Panthers didn’t feel like letting it come down to five games again this year cleaning up with a 25-18 win in the deciding game four. The final point coming off a block from Walker and Handley.
Avoiding that fifth match was on everyone’s mind. Last season in the championship the Panthers won the first and third, but the deciding game five was a thriller. In the fifth game, the first team to 15 with a two-point advantage wins.
It required several sideouts, but the Eagles prevailed 22-20.
One difference this year was the defensive stops by the Panthers. Laura Larson led the defense with 21 digs. Goehner had 14, Monson dug out 14, Handley had nine and Courtney Hayes picked up eight.
Goehner (73 kills in the state tournament), Handley (10 kills, 133 assists) and Sami Flattum (24 kills) were named to the Class AAA All-Tournament team.
In the three-game state tournament Walker had 19 overall kills, Hailey Lonergan had 16 kills, and Neuenschwander had 17 kills.
Goehner has been part of national championships and international tournaments in club volleyball, but she admits there’s nothing quite like winning a state championship with your classmates watching at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It feels more like home with my friends and family here,” she said. “National championships are a big deal and very special, but this is something different.”
She was an important member of the 2010 team that won the state title when she was a freshman.
“It’s not quite the feeling as my freshman year,” Goehner said. “I felt like this was more of a team effort. The whole atmosphere with family and friends, it just feels right.”
It was a bittersweet ending for the seniors knowing this was their last game as a Panther.
“Just to go out winning my senior with my team was amazing,” Larson said. “It’s been an amazing year. And to go out like this. This was definitely one of the best matches we’ve ever played.”