The Wayzata volleyball program made five trips to the state tournament between 2004 and 2010, including two second-place finishes in 2009 and 2010. Since that 2010 runner-up finish however, the Trojans have been shut out of the state tournament.
The 2019 team made sure the program’s drought ended at eight years when it defeated St. Michael-Albertville three sets to none in the Section 5AAA championship game on Thursday, Oct. 31.
“This is a very physical group of kids and they’ve worked really hard at volleyball,” Trojans head coach Scott Jackson said. “Across the net we’ve got some really physical and tall kids. We found some support in the back row with some talented athletes and I’m just really pleased with the team’s growth this season.”
The Trojans will enter this week’s state tournament with a record of 28-3. They haven’t lost a best of five sets match yet this season as all three of their losses have come in regular season tournaments that use the best of three sets format.
They’ve played one of the most competitive schedules in the state this season, which bodes well for their chances at the Xcel Energy Center this week.
“We played Minnetonka three times, we played St. Michael-Albertville three times, we played the two Lakeville schools a total of three times and we went to three of the toughest tournaments in the state,” Jackson said. “It just prepares you, and honestly it’s just more fun that way.”
The team’s section championship victory over St. Michael-Albertville looked routine on paper, but had some tense moments nonetheless.
The Trojans led 22-19 late in the first set, but closed the set with three straight points for the 25-19 victory. Senior Elizabeth Helmich and junior Sophie Jesewitz recorded back-to-back kills before Helmich and senior Lily Emlong combined for a block assist on set point.
The second set was the turning point in the match as the Trojans built a 19-15 lead, allowed the Knights to rally and earn a set point of their own, before claiming a 28-26 victory.
With the Knights leading 26-25, the Trojans got a big swing from senior Kate Long to tie the match at 26. Two points later, senior middle hitter Katelyn Empkey came up with a big block to give the Trojans a two sets to none lead.
“If Katelyn doesn’t make that play, who knows what happens there,” Jackson said. “I’m really proud of her for embracing that moment.”
The Knights appeared to have trouble regrouping after the conclusion of set number two, and the Trojans kept their foot on the gas pedal.
The Trojans played a clean third set and secured the section championship with a 25-13 victory.
Long led the Trojans with 17 kills in the match and appears to be playing her best volleyball of the season at the most important time. She recorded a season-high 20 kills in the Trojans’ section semifinal victory over Osseo.
“Kate is really explosive and has changed her game over the past 18 months,” Jackson said. “She was already an effective hitter, but she’s gotten smarter. She’s playing unafraid and without regret and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The Trojans received the No. 2 seed in the state tournament, which will be played over the course of three days on Nov. 7-9 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Trojans will face unseeded Elk River in a quarterfinal match at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7. With a victory, the Trojans would advance to face either No. 3-seed Lakeville North or unseeded North St. Paul in the semifinals on Friday, Nov. 8.
The No. 1 seed on the opposite side of the bracket is undefeated Eagan. Other teams on the other side of the bracket include No. 4-seed Minnetonka and No. 5-seed Moorhead. The Class AAA state championship match is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9.
“We feel like we have a great opportunity to win three more matches,” Jackson said. “We really don’t have an opponent to fear, it’s just a matter of playing well, serving, passing, and defending. Sometimes you run into teams that are just better – that’s not going to be this team’s issue.”