Tigers fall to Eagan in classic state title match
BY DAVE PEDERSEN
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
Elle Heinonen best described Delano’s near victory in the State Class 3A volleyball championship game against Eagan Saturday by proclaiming, “The team came together like we always do and fought our way back in it and to the end.”
The senior captain was speaking to how Delano lost the first game in the title match 25-13, but rose up to outlast Eagan 29-27 in a key second game win. Top seeded Eagan responded with its own thrilling 26-24 victory.
Delano, playing in its first Class 3A tournament as the smallest school, was not about to back down, capturing the fourth game 25-21, setting up the tie-breaker fifth game to 15 points. Delano grabbed a 10-9 lead in the back and forth contest before Eagan went up 13-12 and won 15-12.
Eagan finished with a 30-2 record, while the No. 3 seeded Tigers went 30-4 after defeating Grand Rapids 3-0 and No. 2 seed Osseo 3-1 in early round games at state. Delano’s run to the top was not easy, overcoming state powers like Chaska to advance and Osseo in semifinals, both with just one loss at the time.
Coach Rebecca Rue said the 29-27 second game win was huge. She adds, “I am so proud how they held their composure together. They don’t crack under pressure. I think they live for pressure situations. The win allowed us to know we can do this.”
Heinonen said it is hard to see the positive in the loss right away. “There is nothing to be down about with second place,” she adds. “When you look at the big picture there are so many people that would die to be in our position. In the end the team fought so hard and it was a great match.”
Senior captain Shelby Seurer paced the attack against Eagan with 26 kills. Junior Alex Wittinger had 18 kills and was in on seven blocks. Junior Bria Barfnecht provided 14 kills and ninth-grader Tori Hanson had nine kills and 27 defensive digs. Junior Kristin Kreklow piled up 57 set assists and had 16 digs, as did Heinonen.
Rue notes how Kreklow did an amazing job at mixing up the offense to keep Eagan guessing, not knowing for sure where the attack was going.
“Our run in the post-season was unbelievable, a total team effort,” said Rue. “We kept getting better and better and gaining confidence. We were not intimidated about being in this class. We were proud of it and wanted to show everybody we belonged.”
Eagan was led by Taylr McNeil with 36 kills and 20 digs. Seurer summed it up by saying, “It was a fun ride and I am proud of us, but it sucks to lose.”
Against Grand Rapids, Delano put up a balanced offensive attack with kill leaders Seurer (14), Wittinger (9), Hanson (9) and Barfnecht (8). Kreklow had 35 set assists, Heinonen had 20 digs and junior Kalley Koch had three of the five ace serves.
The Tigers won the first game against Osseo in the semifinals 25-9, but cooled off to lose 25-21. Another push led to victories of 25-15 and 25-21 to win the match.
Seurer had 18 kills and 14 digs. Wittinger had 14 kills, Barfnecht 11 and Hanson seven. Kreklow had 41 set assists. Osseo won the third place game of No. 4 Eden Prairie.
Named to the All-Tournament team were Seurer, Wittinger and Kreklow. Seurer set a new school career record with 1,251 kills. Kayla Koenecke had the previous record at 1,169.
Delano will graduate two seniors in Seurer and Heinonen, returning a strong nucleus of Wittinger, Barfnecht, Hanson, Kreklow, Koch and ninth-grader Erin Norling, all with extensive varsity playing time.
The varsity includes sophomore hitter Brittni Heinonen, junior defensive specialists Brooke Lemke and Emma Hohn and junior setter Kaelyn Kilbo. Assistant coaches are Erin Olson and Rachel Kunde.