Just two points from the unthinkable, Minnetonka players, arms around one another, with very few tears, thanked the crowd for their support.

There was no regret. There was no disappointment -- on the outside. There was only love for one another. For the effort each and every teammate put forth for one another.

The defining reason why Minnetonka was playing in the State Volleyball Tournament for the first time since 1976. The defining reason why Minnetonka took Eagan to the brink, five games.

And like the Skippers in the Section 2-3A final against Chaska, the Wildcats were just a bit better in the state semifinals Nov. 8 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Minnetonka, from the opening point, gave Eagan a contest. And the Wildcats realized what they were in store with, having won 35 straight games into the match.

"Everyone came together, especially after yesterday where we were lagging. We knew today, after watching film, preparing all together, we could go in with the block connected, to the pass to the set, that we could get it," Minnetonka captain Sarah Stolar said.

"These guys developed a no-fear attitude down the stretch. On paper this team isn't necessarily supposed to be beating some of the teams they handled this year. ... Every single thing these guys have been asked of by either a coach or teammate they have bent over backwards to grant that request," Minnetonka head coach Karl Katzenberger said.

Twice Eagan, which will play in its seventh consecutive state championship, victories in 2013, 2015 and 2016, showed resolve after losing games one and three.

"It was a battle. We were walking in and someone said, 'Every ball was contested.' Our hitters usually swing and score a little more easily and Minnetonka kept the ball alive. It was a battle from start to finish," Eagan head coach Kathy Gillen said.

Forcing game five with a 6-1 run to finish off the fourth set, Eagan jumped out to a 9-5 lead. And just like the section final, down early, out of a timeout Minnetonka responded and rallied.

Kills from Sonia Dahlin, Skyler Germann and Anysia Caille drew an Eagan timeout at 9-8. Caille tied the match at nine with a right-side hit before an attack error suddenly had the Skippers in the lead.

Eagan, though, found a way to win, improving to 31-0 on the season, the final point coming on a ball handling error at 15-13.

Eagan faces No. 2 seed Wayzata in the state championship at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9.

"In the moment, it's stressful, but looking back those are the games we play for. Tight games that are so much fun to rally back from back and forth," Eagan libero Kaylyn Madison said.

Minnetonka struck first in game one, 25-22, Kali Engeman finishing off the fast start with back-to-back kills. Engeman came up big often in the first three games, totaling 15 kills on 26 swings with six blocking points.

Minnetonka had three chances to claim a 2-0 lead at 24-23, 25-24 and 26-25 in game two after the Skippers rallied from a three-point deficit at 20-17. Eagan's KT Pernsteiner finished off the game at 28-26 on an ace.

In a back and forth third game, it was Minnetonka who staved off game point on a Germann kill followed by two Kennedi Orr attack errors for the 27-25 win. Attacks from Abby Stanwood and Engeman late in the game helped the Skippers keep control.

Eagan jumped out to a 15-6 lead in game four, Katzenberger electing to rest Germann, Stanwood and setter Olivia Koeppen. Bottles of water and bananas and a ticket to see the Skipper reserves rally back to 19-17.

Morgan Rooney twice came up with kills, while Dahlin and Ellie Rubinger added swings for points. Eagan, though, won seven of the final eight points to take the match to five games.

It was only the second time the Wildcats went to five games this season, having entered the state tournament with just six set losses.

"I think it was really fair to say Minnetonka outplayed Eagan in the first one. Vice versa in the second one. Minnetonka outplayed Eagan in the third one. Vice versa in the fourth one. And Eagan was the better team, full respect to them. They deserved to win because they outplayed us by a whisker," Katzenberger said.

Germann, a Ms. Volleyball finalists and all-state honoree, led Minnetonka with 18 kills, 18 digs and five blocks. Stanwood (nine), Dahlin (nine) and Caille (eight) led a balanced front for the Skippers.

Koeppen finished with 52 set assists with Stanwood, Koeppen and Stolar each with two serving aces. Stolar set the tone defensively early on, one of four Skippers in double figures in digs with 18.

Orr, who registered 10 errors, none in the final two games, led the Wildcats with 15 kills. She also had 31 assists and 21 digs.

It was the first loss in 20 tournament matches for the Skippers, now 26-7 into the third-place match at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 versus unseeded North St. Paul. Minentonka beat the Polars 2-0 in the Chanhassen Invitational.

"I'm incredibly proud of this team," Katzenberger said. "Incredibly proud of their effort. We're going to play as a team tomorrow and basically give it our best effort."


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