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Eagles knock off Vikings, 3-1, to advance to Class A state tournament

MARSHALL -- After a slow start in Saturday's Section 3A girls' volleyball finals, the Windom Eagles showed why they are ranked the No. 1 Class A team in the state.

With three straight victories following a Game 1 loss, the Eagles defeated Minneota (19-25, 25-15, 25-13, 25-17) to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2000.

"I can't even describe it," Windom senior Malori Paplow said. "It's incredible; I can't believe we did it."

Having members of the 2000 team in attendance made the victory even sweeter for Windom head coach Ron Wendorff.

"It's been seven years since we've been to the state tournament, and in fact, I just saw that four of the girls that were on the 2000 team came tonight," Wendorff said. "That's really special for me. It's just an incredible feeling."

However, Wendorff won't compare the 2007 edition of the Eagles to the team that finished as state runner-up seven years ago.

"I can't, it's just hard," Wendorff said. "In seven years, the sport of volleyball has evolved. My kids were telling me that when we went to state last time, they were at the elementary school. We drove by the elementary school, and they were standing on the streets waving at us with big signs.

"That's a neat memory to have," Wendorff continued. "These kids thought that maybe they'd be going there, and here we are."

After the first game, it appeared that once again the Eagles would be staying home while watching another team head to state.

With a mistake in the rotation to start the game, Windom found themselves in an early hole after the first two rotations.

"I mixed up four and seven, and that doesn't work so well in the sport of volleyball. So, we had a right playing left and a left playing right for two rotations," Wendorff said. "It really got us to focus on volleyball because everybody was playing in a different spot. Of course, it didn't work out so well for us, but it really got us focused on what we needed to do."

Behind the play of Minneota's Steph Boulton (nine kills, four blocks), the Vikings held a 9-7 advantage before Windom used its first timeout.

Out of the timeout, Windom was able to tie the game at 10-all. Both teams traded points, and with the game tied at 14-all, the Vikings (23-5) made their move.

Minneota went on a 9-3 run, taking a 23-17 lead, and Windom was never able to recover -- giving the Vikings a 1-0 advantage.

Wendorff said delaying the start of the match due to the length of the contest before, might have hindered the Eagles' start.

"In the locker room, it seemed like it was going to take forever before we were going to be able to get on the floor with the five-game match in front of us, and that's tough," Wendorff said. "They were chomping at the bit, and you were just kind of waiting for them to open the gate."

With the rotation back to normal, and the Eagles in the swing of the match, Windom jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second game. Behind a block and a kill from Casey Christensen (10 blocks, 13 kills), the Eagles built their lead to 12-3.

However, the Vikings were not ready to give up just yet, as they made a 5-0 run of their own to pull within four points.

Windom answered with four straight points en route to a 25-15 Game 2 victory.

Game 3 seemed like more of the same for both teams, and Windom jumped out to a 5-1 lead for the second straight game. But with a kill and an ace from Minneota's Leah Fadness (10-of-10 serving, one ace), the Vikings pulled back to within two points.

This time Megan Ysker (28 set assists, 18-of-20 serving, one ace, eight kills, four blocks) stepped up to provide a key play for the Eagles. The junior setter scored a big point and had an important block as Windom took a 13-7 lead.

"It was a very balanced attack, we had kids step up all night long," Wendorff said. "Everybody had a big play to get us a side out and keep momentum in our direction."

Windom kept the momentum for a 14-2 run in the middle of Game 3 en route to a 25-13 victory -- and a 2-1 lead.

With the fourth game tied at 10-all, the Eagles made their final push for a state tournament bid.

This time, Allison Nau made a series of plays. Nau (30-of-30 serving, one ace) rattled off eight consecutive points from the service line to give Windom an 18-10 advantage.

"We knew that we wanted to score when we had Allison Nau serving," Wendorff said. "She had a couple of long runs, and in the sport of volleyball, if you can get a long run against a team and then play side-out volleyball the rest of the way, you're going to have a great chance to win that game"

Windom went on to win the game, 25-17.

"I thought we did really well; it was definitely our 'A' game," Ysker said. "We came back and it was pretty exciting."

Karissa Borsgard led the Eagles' defensively. She had 13 digs, and had 33 of the team's 53 serve receives, and was only aced once. Amy Robinson had nine kills, while MaKenzie Lovell had four blocks and seven kills.

The Eagles will face Wheaton at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Warriors (22-5) handed Ada-Borup its second loss of the season, in five games, Saturday in Section 6A play.

"These kids have worked hard and put in a lot of time and played a lot of ball in the off-season," Wendorff said. "Some years, things just fall together, and you get all the pieces to a puzzle. With this team, the puzzle is complete."