Wildcats win volleyball tourney for first time
The high school volleyball season is about one month old, and already three teams have been No. 1 in the state Class 3A rankings.
Eagan is the latest to hold the hot potato, moving to the top of the poll following its victory at the Apple Valley Eagle Invitational last weekend. The Wildcats defeated Chaska, the previous No. 1 team, in the semifinals before beating Blaine 22-25, 25-22, 15-7 in the championship match Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats have been trying for years to win the Eagle Invitational. They have been in it every year since 1998 but had gone 0-for-15 before finally breaking through.
“We called it the Eagan Curse,” senior captain Taylr McNeil said. “We talked about it before every match, and we didn’t want it to happen again this year.”
Eagan (16-0) defeated Alexandria and Eden Prairie in the first two rounds of the tournament before its 25-21, 25-22 victory over Chaska in the semifinals. It’s the Wildcats’ second tournament championship of the season; they won the Shakopee Invitational in early September.
“We were good in every aspect of the game, and you have to be to win this tournament,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen-Melville said. “We served well, received well, blocked well, played good defense, and we did it against good teams. That’s a big thing for our girls’ confidence because we have a lot of tough matches coming up.”
Taylr McNeil was the Wildcats’ standout player in the Eagle Invitational with 60 kills and 32 digs in four matches. She had plenty of help, Gillen-Melville said. Setters Madeline McNeil and Brie Orr ran the offense well, defensive specialists Kelly Madison and Alix Putman were strong in the back row and middle hitters such as junior Callie Schapehahm were factors at the net.
Blaine’s Lydia Dimke is listed in the program as a setter, but the 6-foot-2 senior is to the Bengals what Taylr McNeil is to Eagan – a do-everything player. Eagan was having a difficult time dealing with Dimke’s attacks in the first game of the Eagle Invitational championship match. By the second and third games the Wildcats figured out a way to lessen Dimke’s damage.
“We don’t really focus on one player,” Taylr McNeil said. “She’s a great player; I won’t take that away from her. But we needed to settle down and worry about what was happening on our side of the net.”
Gillen-Melville said Dimke was not as dominant in the final two games. “We served tougher, and that might have taken them out of their offense a little bit,” the coach said.
The Eagle Invitational, probably the state’s most competitive regular-season tournament, completed its 36th edition. In 34 of the previous 35 years, the eventual large-school state champion played in the Eagle Invitational – but didn’t necessarily win it. Eagan, for example, won state championships in 2001 and 2003 but didn’t win the Eagle Invitational either of those years.
Defending state Class AAA champion Lakeville North also defended its title at the Eagle Invitational. The Panthers were 2-2 this year and finished seventh. After defeating Waconia in the first round, North lost in straight sets to Marshall, the top-ranked team in Class 2A. North (14-3) also fell to Hopkins before defeating Lakeville South 25-19, 25-19 in the seventh-place match. Lakeville South (8-10) went 1-3 in the tournament.
Apple Valley also went 1-3 in the Eagle Invitational, with its victory coming against Andover in its final match. The Eagles, 6-10 overall, also will be hosts of the October Classic on Oct. 11-12, with Chaska scheduled to be in the field.
Eagan, Prior Lake and Lakeville North were tied for first place in South Suburban Conference volleyball after all three won conference matches Tuesday night.
The leaders have yet to play each other. Eagan goes to Lakeville North on Oct. 15 and is home against Prior Lake on Oct. 15. Prior Lake and Lakeville North play Oct. 1 at North.