Volleyball schedule reverting to normal

Lakeville North's Sydney Timm spikes the ball against Champlin Park during the first round of the Eagle Invitational at Apple Valley High School

Lakeville North happy to make it through a challenging week

Volleyball teams are back to the grind and couldn’t be happier about it.

A year ago there where legitimate questions about whether a high school season would be held, when it would take place, and how it would look. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the Minnesota State High School League floated the idea of a spring 2021 volleyball season but faced immediate pushback. It settled on a shortened season in October and November 2020 with no state tournament (playoffs ended up being cut short last fall because of a surge in COVID-19 cases).

During the 2020 season teams were limited to two matches a week for most of the season and couldn’t play weekend tournaments.

Moving ahead to fall 2021, things are mostly back to where they were. Lakeville North just went through a stretch of seven matches in seven days, concluding with a 25-17, 25-18, 25-17 victory over Burnsville in a South Suburban Conference match Monday night.

“It was a long, mentally draining, physically draining week,” Lakeville North coach Jackie Richter said. “I was proud of their resiliency throughout the week, and just their attitude of always trying to get better.”

The stretch started with straight-set losses to SSC rivals Eagan and Lakeville South, then things got better for the Panthers. They went 2-2 against a powerful field in the Eagle Invitational at Apple Valley High School. One of the Panthers’ victories on their way to sixth place in the Eagle Invitational was over Lakeville South in a best-of-three match.

Lakeville North is 11-7 overall against a gauntlet of highly ranked opponents in Class 4A and Class 3A.

“We look at every practice and every match as an opportunity to figure out more about ourselves as individuals and as a team,” Richter said. “It’s good for us when opponents expose parts of our game that need improvement, and that’s what our conference and those tournaments do for us.”

Lakeville North was 10-2 in the shortened 2020 season, but several of the players from that team have gone on to college programs where they are expected to be major contributors. This year’s varsity roster has 10 seniors and juniors, plus a ninth-grader and eighth-grader.

Senior outside hitter Kaitlynn Peterson (Bradley) and setter Abby Jandro (Fairfield) have committed to play at Division I colleges. Senior Abigail Wherland will play at Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Right-side hitters Sydney Timm and Bailey Leeke also are seniors.

The seniors have to try to help the team ingrain the habits Richter believes are required for success, and “their experience has really helped our team,” the coach added.

Richter said the Panthers also have improved in a area not often referenced in volleyball – they’re becoming more physical.

How does that work when you don’t make contact with the team on the other side of the net? “It’s a defensive thought for us, as far playing teams more physical with our block, playing teams more physical with our dig, and then that transition of working hard to take some swings,” Richter said. “With all the tough teams we’ve played in the past week and a half, I think we’ve become a more physical team. And we’re learning to control our serve/pass a little bit. If that isn’t strong, it becomes a catch-up game for us the whole match.”

The Panthers, 3-2 in the South Suburban, return to conference play at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Eastview. They have several other difficult matches to get through, notably against Shakopee and Bloomington Jefferson, in addition to their own Todd Bachman Invitational in mid-October.

The Class 4A, Section 1 playoffs are scheduled to start in late October, with Lakeville North, Lakeville South and Northfield among the top contenders. With a large chunk of the regular-season schedule remaining, Richter said the Panthers aren’t thinking about the postseason yet.

“At this point we’re really trying to fine-tune how the Panthers play volleyball,” she said. “We’ll add small pieces here and there to hopefully give us one or two more points a set, but the majority of our practices are about sharpening the sword we already have.”

Eagle Invitational

Wayzata came into last weekend’s Eagle Invitational volleyball tournament as the top-ranked team in Class 4A – and left it the same way after winning four matches and the tourney championship.

Wayzata, now 17-0, received all 14 first-place votes in this week’s state Class 4A poll. The Trojans defeated Lake Conference rival Eden Prairie in three sets in the Eagle Invitational final Saturday afternoon at Apple Valley High School.

Eagan finished third in the tournament and ended the week 12-3 overall and second-ranked in Class 4A. The Wildcats beat Moorhead in the first round, then defeated the top-ranked Class 3A team, Marshall, in the second round. A 19-25, 25-15, 15-8 loss to Wayzata in the semifinals sent Eagan to the third-place match, where it defeated Shakopee 25-16, 25-13.

Eagan and Shakopee are 1-1 against each other in tournament matches. Currently they’re the top two teams in the South Suburban and their match Oct. 13 at Eagan could determine the conference champion.

Lakeville South went 1-3 in the Eagle Invitational to finish ninth, while host school Apple Valley was 0-4.

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