When Blaine finished third in a volleyball tournament in Apple Valley last month, the Bengals vowed they would be a better team by the time they made their next trip to the southern metro.
They lived up to their word by winning the 12-team Eastview Invitational last weekend. The Bengals, ranked second in Class 3A, defeated ninth-ranked Chaska 25-14, 16-25, 15-12 in the championship match Saturday afternoon.
Three weeks earlier, Blaine finished third in the Eagle Invitational in Apple Valley, which probably has the strongest field of any volleyball tournament all season. The Bengals suffered their only loss in their first 25 matches at that tournament. But coach Celeste Gorman said that was OK because the Eagle Invitational exposed the Bengals’ weaknesses and gave them an opportunity to improve those areas.
So, is Blaine a better team now than it was then?
“For sure,” said senior outside hitter Katherine Hawkins. “We’re working better as a team. If someone’s down, the rest of us try to pick her up. And our passing is a lot better.”
Hawkins said the Bengals have been spending a lot of time in practice working on passing so they can set up their dynamic offense.
“It’s pass, pass, pass in practice,” she said. “There’s no substitute for getting touches on the ball. It’s a lot of work, but we try to do things in practice to make it fun.”
“We try to work on those things every day in practice,” Gorman said. “But now we’re seeing the girls do them in matches.”
Junior setter/outside hitter Lydia Dimke starred in the Eastview Invitational. In seven matches last week, including five at the Eastview tourney, she had 43 kills, 45 digs, 77 set assists and 33 service aces.
Blaine also defeated Spring Lake Park, Shakopee, East Ridge and St. Michael-Albertville at the Eastview tournament.
The Bengals were 24-1 going into the final week of the regular season. They were to play Anoka in their final Northwest Suburban Conference match Tuesday, with the winner taking the league championship. Both teams went into the match 9-0 in conference play.
When Gorman was asked last weekend about what was at stake in the Anoka match, she said, “Honestly, I don’t know if (the players) are aware of that.”
While the Bengals wouldn’t mind winning the conference, it’s apparent their goals extend far beyond that. They wear T-shirts with the slogan, “Unfinished Business.” That’s a reference to the postseason, which for Blaine starts Oct. 25 when it plays host to Mounds View or Rogers in a Class 3A, Section 5 quarterfinal match.
Last year the Bengals won their section and entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed, only to lose their first two matches.
This year, “it’s not necessarily about winning state, but playing the best we can play,” Hawkins said. “Of course we’d like to win it, but if third place is the best we can get, that’s great too. We just want to play well.”
Andover, Spring Lake Park
Andover and Spring Lake Park also competed in the Eastview Invitational last weekend. Andover (11-15 overall), went 1-3 in the tournament, with its victory coming against Bloomington Jefferson. Spring Lake Park (8-15) also went 1-3 and also defeated Jefferson.
Mike Shaughnessy is at [email protected]