What advanced the No. 8 seed Chaska through the Section 2AAA volleyball playoff bracket was strong passing, strong hitting and a belief that was unmatched.

Even down two games in the championship Nov. 2 at Prior Lake High School, everything seemingly falling apart for the Hawks, Chaska was not ready for the incredible run to end.

They had not upset No. 1 seed Shakopee and No. 4 seed Eden Prairie, both in hostile road gymnasiums, to go quietly in the championship.

So they found their passing. They fed the best hitter on the court in Mallory Heyer. They cut down on their mistakes, forcing Minnetonka into them.

A fifth game for the section title, it looked like Chaska would complete the comeback. Would complete the Cinderella story. Leads of 8-4, 10-7 and 12-10, the first team to 15, win by two.

Yet Minnetonka, beaten in a sweep by Shakopee in the 2018 championship, were not to be denied this time. Skyler Germann's hit off the Chaska block landed out of bounds, giving the Skippers the 25-20, 25-15, 11-25, 14-25, 15-13 victory.

It is the first trip to the state tournament since 1976 for Minnetonka.

"What it was in a word was scary," Minnetonka head coach Karl Katzenberger said. "Chaska came into this match the hottest team in state. We knew they were in no mood to come in and end their season after the way they played in the quarters and semis. Full respect to every single Chaska player, and Sue (Murphy) and her staff. She has (521) wins for crying out loud. She's amazing. I just felt like it came down to a couple plays here and there. It could have been Chaska. It could have been Minnetonka. We feel very fortunate to have pulled it off by a whisker."

Beaten handily in games three and four, Minnetonka needed to shift the momentum. Four of the first five points going to Chaska wasn't the answer.

It was 7-2 Hawks when the Skippers started to find their traction. Back-to-back points got the ball rolling, yet Chaska still found themselves up 9-6. Katzenberger called his final timeout.

"We were down 9-6 and I used my last timeout. I just said here's the deal, remember this for the rest of your days, 'Live your life. No one controls you. You control you, whether it's college, job, whatever.' They did such a great job following that message and we had just enough to get across the finish line," the Skipper coach said.

Following a Hanna Thompson kill at 10-7 for Chaska, Minnetonka reeled off three straight points to draw even.

Back-to-back kills from Thompson and Heyer regained control for Chaska. Germann got it back for the Skippers with back-to-back points herself.

The two teams traded points to 13-all before a Hawk serve hit the net to give Minnetonka game point. It was only fitting the final swing came from Germann, the do-everything leader for the Skippers.

"It really takes one point I feel like, and our team was in it all together. We all knew we were going to pull it out, no matter the score. When you get that one point and everyone got excited and then you get the next one and the next one," Minnetonka junior captain Kali Engeman said.

Minnetonka enters the Class 3A State Tournament Nov. 7-9 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with a 25-6 record.

UNLIKELY CHAMPION

Graduating all but three rotational players -- Germann, Engeman and Macy Osenga -- from the 2018 section runner-up team, no one expected the Skippers to be where they are.

No one expected Minnetonka to go 18-0 in tournament matches, win three invitationals and a section championship. Before Chaska won two games, the Skippers hadn't lost a set in tournament play.

"At the beginning of the season we were all trying to figure each other out. We were a new team. By the time we got to the St. Michael tournament and beat Wayzata, which is a great team, it was then that we realized we could do this. We could make it to state," Engeman said.

For Engeman, she knew her contributions needed to increase this season. The junior middle finished with 201 kills in the regular season with a hitting percentage of 32.7.

She also had twice as many blocking points as the next member of her team with 68 in the regular season.

Blocking came in handy down the stretch in the finals.

Heyer hitting balls down at will through three games, a strategic change pitted Engeman against the Chaska sophomore outside. And while Heyer still managed to get her points, it proved to be much tougher. Heyer had two hitting errors in game five.

"We switched it up a little bit. I was really excited to go up against her. You know that's who they want to set and as a blocker you're going up every time with her looking to beat her. It was such a momentum shifter," Engeman said.

The Skippers, the No. 4 seed, play fifth-seeded Moorhead at 9 a.m. in the quarterfinals Nov. 7. Minnetonka is guaranteed a second match at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8 as well.

SEASON ENDS

For Chaska (17-14), the 17 games of the 2019 post-season is one that will be remembered for quite some time.

Big crowds, including a charged and vocal student section, witnessed a team playing for one another. Playing for their school, playing for their community.

While five seniors depart for Chaska, with the hitting attack of Heyer, Thompson and Ella Christ returning, as well as libero Brier Ziemer, on paper the Hawks figure to be a section title contender again in 2020.

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