After winning the first-ever Minnesota state boys volleyball championship two years ago, Andover was eager to pick up where it left off.
While it took an extra year to do so due to the pandemic canceling last year’s season, the Huskies didn’t miss a beat when finally returning to action throughout this spring. And in the end of the season, they didn’t miss a shot at another title either, repeating as state champs in dominant fashion June 16-17 in Shakopee.
Andover swept its way through its opening three matches, setting up a heavyweight clash in the finals between the top two ranked teams, where the Huskies prevailed in four sets.
“Throughout the tournament, the team played unapologetically,” Andover head coach John Bryce said. “They were there to work hard, and they were there to win. Throughout the entire season, the players showed an incredible ability to remain level-headed and focused, despite the outcome of the games, be it high or low, and the championship was no different. Everyone kept their heads up, and none of them showed the attitude of accepting defeat. Each and every player took it in stride and fought harder to overcome. As a coach, I could not be more proud of how determined and mature my players were.”
In the championship match, it was a showdown of No. 1 vs. No. 2. Coming in as the underdog, Eden Prairie took an extremely competitive opening set 27-25.
Down early, there were a few extra nerves for the Huskies, but no panic. Only confidence.
“After EP won the first set, I knew we were about to pick it up,” setter Charlie Fenton said. “We start slow occasionally, but always finish out the game.”
“After losing the first set to EP, I was a little scared because as a team we didn’t lose very often, so to drop the first set in the state championship was terrifying to say the least,” middle hitter Dylan Karger said. “It also made the game so much more exciting because we had to fight back to stay in the game and not go home as losers.”
Andover leveled the match by taking the second set 25-20, then pulled ahead with a 25-21 win in the third set.
The Huskies left no doubt in the fourth, cruising 25-15 to capture the repeat title.
“After losing the first set, I was still confident in our team to pull through and win, I just knew we needed to lock in,” outside hitter Nick Feine said. “The feeling of winning the state title was indescribable and one of the best moments of my life.”
A moment well worth the wait in a season of excellence, with Andover also winning a conference championship and only dropping seven sets and a single match all spring.
“Last year’s season being canceled was pretty upsetting because I thought that we had a good chance to win another state title, and it would have been nice to be a part of the atmosphere that there is in the volleyball season,” Feine said. “(This year) I felt a little more pressure on winning because we were the favorites, and people had the expectation that we would win again. Our team was so successful because of our team chemistry and the fact that we had a roster full of athletes that could make plays all around.”
“The season went really well for me because I was surrounded by great teammates, friends and coaches who helped me learn so much more about the game of volleyball and improve on the court,” Karger said. “I think the reason our team was so strong was because of the friendships we all had and how we treated each other during the games, practices and off the court. Our team also had a lot of experience playing volleyball and it helped me as a person be able to learn during games from my teammates.”
“I thought the season went really well,” Fenton said. “The most intense volleyball was played this year. The reason this team was so good was because we were all friends. We knew each other — the chemistry is undeniable.”
Andover opened the state tournament a 25-13, 25-11, 25-15 victory over Proctor-Hermantown, then topped Elk River 25-13, 25-18, 25-12. Andover swept Eagan 25-20, 25-14, 25-17 in the semifinals before taking down Eden Prairie in the championship.
In the early stages of boys volleyball in the state, Andover has established itself as a powerhouse.
The program has been helped along by an emphasis on the sport in the school system. When players first had the opportunity to play structured competition, they came prepared to play, and ready to learn.
“I have to give great credit to the athletes,” Bryce said. “Aside from being naturally talented, they picked up skills incredibly quick, learned the technical challenges that make good players great and showed up to every practice eager and ready to learn. I also know that most players have access to high school power volleyball classes, so most of my team came in with the groundwork already constructed. It was easy to build from there.”
Minnesota boys volleyball was dealt a setback earlier this spring when it just missed being sanctioned as a sport by the Minnesota State High School League. The hope for teams like the Huskies is that it will soon pass a vote by the MSHSL to move up from the club level.
And for Andover, that it will continue being in the mix for championships for years to come.
“I see Andover continuing year after year to put out a competitive team, with goals of more state titles to come,” Bryce said. “The news that boys volleyball did not pass to become sanctioned was definitely disappointing. I, along with all the other amazing programs in the state, can only hope that the attention that the state tournament received will open the eyes of those who were against sanctioning the sport, so they can see the opportunities that volleyball can provide these student-athletes. There are more and more growing programs across the country for boys volleyball at the collegiate level, and without the support of the community, some kids may never get the opportunity to show their skills off to the numerous recruiters who are out seeking new talent. One thing is certain — boys volleyball isn’t going away anytime soon, and I’m excited to see what the future brings us.”
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