Trip to state earned after Tigers upset top seed Chaska
BY DAVE PEDERSEN
The common theme expressed by Delano volleyball players after a dramatic 3-2 victory over Chaska in the Class 3A Section 2 championship game Saturday had to do with believing and dreams coming true.
Competing in what is proclaimed to be the toughest section in the state Delano took down once-beaten and top seed Chaska to advance to the state tournament in thrilling fashion. After Delano won the first two intense games 25-22 and 25-23, Chaska stormed back to dominate 25-12 and 25-18, setting up a do or die tie-breaker game.
“I can’t believe it. This is so surreal,” said junior hitter Bria Barfnecht after the Tigers regained authority and roared to a 15-11 win and title match triumph. “We came together as a team and we never gave up. We are the little engine that could. No one thinks a school the size of Delano could make it through this section, but we did.”
Barfnecht found herself open for hits down the sidelines after Chaska cheated on blocking Delano’s top two middle hitters, 6-2 senior Shelby Seurer and 6-1 junior Alex Wittinger. The 5-9 Barfnecht finished with 16 kills while Seurer pounded out 21 kills, Wittinger had 13 and ninth-grader Tori Hanson added eight.
“This is unbelievable,” said defensive specialist Elle Heinonen, a captain along with Seurer as the only varsity seniors. “I have been dreaming about this day forever. “We had small goals along the way to get there, but this was our number one goal. We are not satisfied yet, now we want to win it. This is for sure a huge, huge step for us.”
Delano, 28-3, was named as the No. 3 seed at state behind 27-2 Eagan, who gave Chaska its other defeat, and 28-1 Osseo. The Tigers open against 29-2 Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The winner takes on either Osseo or 24-4 Rochester Mayo, 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8. The state title match is 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9. The third place game is 3 p.m. Saturday and consolation game starts at 9 a.m.
Asked what the coach said in the huddle before the deciding fifth game, Wittinger said not much, adding how, “It was our captains who were getting us pumped up. They said to work your heart out and leave it on the court. That’s what we did.”
Seurer said there was a sense of urgency after losing two games and she knew players had to step it up and finish it. The top kill leader in school history adds how the pressure was on Chaska after Delano won the first two games.
“We said we had to be mentally tough and come out strong,” said Seurer about what captains told teammates before the final game. “Everybody wanted it so bad and we showed it. We knew what we had to do.”
Junior Kristin Kreklow provided 49 set assists in the match. She played in the state tournament as an eighth-grader four years ago, the last time Delano played at state before moving up to class 3A. A couple weeks ago she earned state player of the week honors by the National Volleyball Coaches Association.
“Nothing beats going to state,” said Kreklow. “That’s what we worked for all year. Playing at state will be a little harder this time, but hopefully we can go there and make a good stand for Delano.”
Coach Rebecca Rue said in the final game she adjusted the player rotation a little to get a different matchup against Chaska’s effective block, which seemed to work.
“I give all the credit to our girls who stayed emotionally stable, which is huge in a match like this,” adds Rue. “In game five they could have folded and they didn’t. Without the seniors out there we would not be able to hold our composure.”
Rue adds how Delano has the lowest enrollment of all 96 Class 4A volleyball teams. Players still went into the season knowing they could do it.
“We are playing with the best of the best,” notes Rue. “Words can’t express how I am so excited for these girls because they put in a lot of time and commitment to the sport. They proved they really wanted it.”
The Tiger roster at section included juniors Kalley Koch, Brooke Lemke, Emma Hohn and Kaelyn Kilbo, sophomore Brittni Heinonen and ninth-grader Erin Norling. Assistant coaches are Erin Olson and Rachel Kunde.
Seurer currently has 1,193 career kills and Heinonen cleared the 1,000 career milestone in digs in the section semifinal victory over Waconia last week. Season kill leaders are Seurer 384, Wittinger 288, Barfnecht 221 and Hanson 192.
Rue is the daughter of Ada-Borup head coach Ruth Hayden. This is the third state tourney where both of their teams have participated at the same time.