Abby Stanwood

Abby Stanwood of the Minentonka girls volleyball team blocks against Eden Prairie hitter Paige O'Connell (11). (Sun Photo by John Sherman)

After the first two sets of the Eden Prairie-Minnetonka girls volleyball match Oct. 29 at the EP gym, it looked like Minnetonka would soon put the Eagles to bed.

The Skippers clicked with 25-23 and 25-22 wins in those early sets, but by the end of the night Eden Prairie had completely turned the tide by winning the last three sets 25-15, 25-19 and 15-12.

For coach Chad Becker’s Eagles, it was the most significant victory of the season so far. Minnetonka came into the match 5-0 and ranked fourth in the state among Class AAA teams.

“There are some things we could have done better,” Minnetonka head coach Karl Katzenberger said after the match. “But Eden Prairie just played better than we did. Chad is one of the long-standing top coaches in the state, and Eden Prairie is always a tough out. We go into every Lake Conference match knowing it could be a long match.”

This one lasted almost two hours and followed a similar pattern to a match earlier this year when Minnetonka defeated Eden Prairie 3 sets to 2 at the Tonka gym.

A combination of heavy hits and fiery defensive plays highlighted the rematch.

Minnetonka finished off the first set on a big hit by Sonia Dahlin, and in the second set Kali Engeman had the deciding kill.

In the third game, which EP dominated, Paige O’Connell had the final kill.

Eden Prairie took a 14-4 lead in the fourth set before Minnetonka rallied to cut the deficit to four points at 14-10. Livia Hagberg had a kill to turn the set Eden Prairie’s way at 22-16. The final EP point came on a double block by O’Connell and 6-foot-3 Kendall Minta.

The fifth set saw Eden Prairie take a 12-7 lead before the teams exchanged several points. Minnetonka bumped the ball out of bounds and the set ended with the Eagles winning 15-12.

Both teams had balanced hitting with Dahlin, Engeman, Morgan Rooney, Abby Stanwood and Kate Simington doing the heavy lifting for Minnetonka. Eden Prairie countered with the hard-hitting crew of O’Connell, Minta, Hagberg, Lillian Ekness and Adisa Preston. “Kate Simington had 13 kills,” Katzenberger noted. “She was on our 9A team last year, and she skipped the sophomore and JV levels in moving up to varsity this year.”

Minnetonka’s back-row defense was sparked by Rooney, Stanwood, Olivia Koeppen, Macy Osenga and Morgan Ryan. Eden Prairie countered with its quick libero, senior captain Mallorey Madson, along with Jess Nelson and Katelyn Jensen.

Excellent depth on the part of both teams was apparent. “These are big schools, and there are a lot of players to choose from,” Tonka’s Katzenberger said. “The core of what we teach is that it’s a team game. We have worked hard to be recognized as one of the top programs in the state.”

Eden Prairie’s big win on the 29th followed a loss at Bloomington Jefferson the night before. That match went to the Jaguars in three close games. It was a credit to Eden Prairie that the Eagles had the stamina to play five sets the next night.

At 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, Eden Prairie resumes Lake Conference action in a match at Buffalo.

Minnetonka will face No. 1-ranked Wayzata in a key conference match at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10, at the Wayzata High gym.

The Trojans had heavy graduation losses, but have retooled with twin sisters Stella and Olivia Swenson transferring in from Hopkins.

“Those are great additions for their team,” Katzenberger said. “And Wayzata is obviously really well coached.”

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