Eagles finish as state runners-up
ST. PAUL -- If Windom head coach Ron Wendorff and Bethlehem Academy head coach Franz Boelter didn't have enough history between them prior to Saturday, the two added another chapter during the Class A state volleyball championship.
Boelter's Cardinals defeated Wendorff's Eagles 3-1 at the Xcel Energy Center to claim BA's third state championship in five years.
"It's pretty unbelievable," Boelter, who graduated from Windom in 1970, said. "I'll tell you what they've done here; they've absolutely played their best volleyball at the end of the season. I'm just so happy for them; they've worked so hard."
BA (25-8) won the first game 25-17, before Windom (31-3) came back to tie the match with a 25-22 victory in Game 2. BA closed out the match with a pair of 25-19 victories.
"I don't think we played bad; I think we played with our hearts," Windom senior, and all-tournament team member Malori Paplow said. "But they were just a better team today."
Wendorff and Boelter found themselves together out of college at Medford, where they coached basketball together.
Since then, the two have taken up volleyball and separated, but still remain close.
"We've talked a lot about volleyball through the years and we've shared ideas; we shared a lot of ideas throughout this year actually," Wendorff said. "It's not easy to lose, but I have so much respect for Franz Boelter, and I've looked up to him since my first year of coaching. He's a great man, a great person, and his kids are lucky to play for him."
Even in victory, Boelter knows what Wendorff is going through.
"Words probably don't take care of it right now, because I know what that feels like, and I wish he could feel what I'm feeling right now," Boelter said. "He is one of the best coaches in the state, and you can't find more of a gentleman than Ron Wendorff. I really hope he can get one of these, so he can experience this."
With BA serving first, Windom was able to score first behind a kill from Courtney Ysker (12 kills, eight digs).
Behind two kills from all-tournament team member Casey Christensen (12 kills), Windom held a 10-9 lead midway through the first game.
However, tied at 12-all, the Cardinals made their move with a 12-2 run to increase their lead.
"It was pretty close until about 12-12, and then all of a sudden they got that four or five point run," Wendorff said. "That's something that you try to do in volleyball is to try and get a run like that because then all you have to do is play point for point and you can just ease your way to 25, and they were able to do that."
Windom tried to rally with three consecutive points, but lost the first game, 25-17.
After gaining some momentum at the end of Game 1, the Eagles came out and took an early 4-3 lead in Game 2.
However, that lead would not last long, as BA rattled off four straight points to take a 7-3 lead.
Windom battled back and with a thunderous kill from all-tournament team member Megan Ysker (nine kills, 30 set assists, 14 digs), tied the game at 11.
Neither team could pull away until Paplow hit one of her six kills on the night to give Windom a two point lead -- forcing a BA timeout.
The Cardinals were not going quietly in Game 2 however.
A kill from Holly Hafemeyer (14 kills, seven blocks) tied the game at 19, and forced Windom to use a timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Eagles closed the match as Christensen put the final touches on a 25-22 victory.
"Once we got the jitters out we started playing a lot better, but I don't really know what it was," Christensen said. "We played our hearts out and the best that we could. We just couldn't pull through."
With their crowd and momentum on their side, the Eagles struggled in the early going of Game 3.
BA's KariAnne Nass (five kills, 15 set assists, 14 digs) and Nicole Pothen (five kills, 15 digs) each had a pair of kills as the Cardinals had an 8-2 lead.
BA was able to build the lead to 14-5, as it looked like the Eagles were finished.
However, MaKenzie Lovell's serving brought the Eagles back.
Trailing 18-7, Lovell and the Eagles rattled off nine straight points -- bringing Windom back to within two points.
"She (MaKenzie) really got us going in the third game," Wendorff said. "We were down by nine or 10 points, and she came back and scored seven or eight straight points and had three or four aces within that run. I'm just happy that she's had a chance to show people exactly what she can do from the service line."
Like they did all day, the Cardinals made the plays when they needed to, as the Eagles were never able to get any closer in a 25-19 defeat.
"Our kids swung well, and we covered well and had some great rallies," Wendorff said. "That was some very good volleyball, but it seemed like they were just always just a little bit better than us on some of those key points."
Coming out of a tough loss in Game 3, Wendorff said the Eagles were focused on winning the next game.
"We just said that we were having so much fun and it was such a great experience being able to be playing on this floor at a state championship game, we just wanted to get it to five," Wendorff said. "That's what we were doing; one point at a time to get this thing to five and then we'll take it from there. That's what we tried to do, but they kind of got off on a good run on us early."
Stephanie Meschke (seven kills) found a gap in the Eagle defense as BA held an 8-3 lead early.
However, behind back-to-back kills from Paplow and Amy Robinson (nine kills), the Eagles pulled back within three.
"To give our kids credit, they didn't tie in the shoelaces, they just kept battling back," Wendorff said. "We just couldn't overcome the big gap that we gave them to start the game."
With three consecutive kills from Megan Ysker, Courtney Ysker and Lovell, Windom tied the game at 10-all.
However, an 11-3 run gave BA a commanding lead, and eventually a state championship.
"I'm just sad and disappointed that the outcome wasn't our way," Christensen said. "We really worked hard this season, and it was really disappointing to have it end like that."
For Windom, the play of Hafemeyer on the opposite side proved to be the difference.
"I think the blocking really made our team struggle," Christensen said. "No. 10 put up a big block, and we struggled the whole night trying to fight around it."
As a team, BA finished with 22 total blocks.
"We told our kids that we were going to have to hit away from (Hafemeyer)," Wendorff said. "The outside hitters were going to have to go line, and Casey was going to have to move around a little bit and be extremely aggressive and hit the ball before she had a chance to get her hands penetrated."
After scoring 17 service aces in each of the first two matches, Windom was held to just seven in Saturday's match.
"They serve received the ball really well," Wendorff said. "We hit some of the harder serves of the season at them, and they passed them. Again, give them credit because normally we have balls out of system if nothing else and they were certainly passing our ball."
While Windom's three losses were at the hands of two state championship teams (Marshall and BA) and a state runner-up team (St. Cloud Cathedral), ending with a loss is still tough to take.
"It's a big letdown. The saddest point for me is to have to say goodbye to my seniors and have this season come to an end because it's been a great run and a great season," Wendorff said. "I couldn't be prouder of these kids if we won first or second. I'm disappointed for them because they wanted it so bad and they wanted to bring home a state championship to Windom."
Replacing the five seniors won't be easy for Windom, but the Eagles will have a strong core returning.
"We have some good kids coming back, and some great kids to build around," Wendorff said. "MaKenzie Lovell is coming back and she's only going to get better as she gets stronger and older. We have a couple of Ysker's coming back, and Allison Nau is a tremendous defensive player. The task is tough to take over the leadership roles, because these kids have done a great job in our program and have worked extremely hard to build it and to get it to the level where it's at."
But even a bright future won't take the sting away from the loss.
"I wish we could have brought a state championship back to Windom and the Southwest part of the state, but we got beat by a fine team today," Wendorff said.