Stacked tournament begins this week
BY NICK CLARK – SUN NEWSPAPERS
The axis of volleyball powers has yet to officially tilt from the south side of the metro to the north.
The state rankings verify the sentiment, as Eagan, Chaska and Lakeville North claimed the top three spots in the final Class 3A poll of the regular season.
But, as the postseason begins this week across all of Minnesota, the north side of the metro will garner plenty of attention, especially in the land of the Class 3A, Section 5 tournament.
Arguably the most talented field in Minnesota, and unquestionably the deepest, the tournament starts this week with a burden placed on all involved to handle what is expected to be the very definition of a grind.
“It’s going to be interesting for all of us,” said Champlin Park head coach John Yunker, whose team received a bye after a 22-6 regular season earned them the No. 2 seed in the 12-team tournament.
“There is a good chance there are going to be some upsets if you just look at seed numbers,” Yunker continued. “But if you really think about it, it might not be that big of an upset based on how good these teams are.”
To solidify the point, just look at Maple Grove. The Crimson won 17 matches this fall and take an eight-game winning streak into the playoffs. Yet, the best Maple Grove could muster is the No. 8 seed in the section.
Osseo, which went 25-1 this year and was rated No. 4 in the final Class 3A state rankings of the year, is the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Blaine (22-5) ended up third, Mounds View (20-6) is No. 4, St. Michael-Albertville (17-11) is No. 5, Totino-Grace (17-11) is No. 6 and Centennial (13-14) is No. 7.
Osseo will play either Maple Grove or Rogers. The Rebels get the winner of the Centennial/Spring Lake Park Oct. 22 match at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24.
And while nothing is guaranteed to any of the participants, Champlin Park does have one promise – the girls will be ready.
They locked up second place in the Northwest Suburban Conference by defeating Armstrong 3-0 Oct. 15, before coming back 24 hours later to seal that No. 2 seed in the section with a 3-0 victory over Mounds View.
From there, the girls traveled to Chaska for a 12-team tournament, where they placed third on a weekend that featured a victory over Class 2A, No. 2 Stewartville and a loss to Class 3A, No. 1 Eagan.
It was the third strong showing in tournament for Champlin Park this fall – the girls were also seventh and fifth in 32-team tournaments in Marshall and at St. Michael-Albertville earlier this season – which could bode well as they head into their most important one to date.
“We are tested, and we’ve reacted well this year to those type of situations,” said Yunker. “We are constantly reminding them it is going to be a grind mentally and that is what happens in the postseason. The teams that come out on top are the ones that can handle that adversity and the stress of the situation.”
“That can be us. We don’t have 22 wins by accident. We obviously know how to play volleyball, so it will just be how we respond when we make mistakes.”