Volleyball team outlasts Blaine for spot in final
by Nick Clark
Sun POST Newspapers
The set was perfect, which is something Champlin Park ninth-grader Sydney Hilley would know a thing or two about.
Transformed into an outside hitter during her first season with the Champlin Park varsity team, Hilley had been spent most of her life as the passer in such circumstances.
But in this, the moment that could very well help redefine what the sport is at her school, the chance was hers to put it away.
And so, with a cannon shot of her powerful right arm, Hilley blew through the ball, deflecting it off a Blaine defender and then to the ground for the final point on a night in which 215 of them needed to be played out in order to determine a winner.
They all counted, but perhaps none more so than this, as Hilley’s kill lifted Champlin Park to a 3-2 (25-17, 22-25, 21-25, 25-23, 17-15) thriller over Blaine in the Class 3A, Section 5 volleyball semifinals Oct. 30 at Osseo High School.
“I’m still a little shocked we found a way,” said Hilley. “I was just running around aimlessly on the court after it went down. I still can’t believe it.”
In truth, few could.
The Rebels had battled Blaine earlier in the year, winning that match 3-2 as well. Through four games last Wednesday, nobody on either side appeared willing to give. That is, until Mariya Sampson’s knee did just that.
That Champlin Park senior and future college volleyball player at Division II Superpower Concrodia University was injured late in Game 4, leaving her opening on the floor to be filled by junior varsity call-up and ninth-grader Allie Miller.
Others, such as sophomore Hanny Crymble and senior Kaitlyn Kerns, were forced to contribute more as well.
No way was that going to stack up against Blaine, which spent much of the fall rated No. 3 in the state and was the defending section champion.
“It didn’t look good,” admitted Champlin Park head coach John Yunker. “We talked about the team that wins is going to be who handles the adversity? Obviously [losing Mariya] was not the kind of adversity we were looking for, but the girls kept it under control because they weren’t freaking out. I’m really proud of the way they stuck together out there.”
The glue would hold into the weekend, where Champlin Park would see its season end with a 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-18) loss to Osseo in the section title game Nov. 2 at Anoka High School.
That left the goal of reaching a state tournament falling just a bit short, but as Yunker noted, there was very little that could diminish what his team accomplished this season.
The girls won 24 games this fall, finishing the year with a 24-7 overall record, a number that could be the most in school history.
They placed second in the Northwest Suburban Conference, and earned the No. 2 seed in arguably one of the state’s most difficult postseason fields.
And after fending off two match-points against Blaine last week, they swept the season series from a school long considered the benchmark for volleyball excellence in this portion of the metro.
“That was a big, big step,” said Yunker. “We’ve been trying to take the next step and be the new Champlin Park, and what they did out there, that is the new Champlin Park volleyball. This is great to build off for next year, because the kids start to believe that they can do this and they can play with anybody, which they showed throughout the season.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]