Anoka’s (23-7, 9-1) nine year absence from the state volleyball tournament will come to an end after another close Section 7AAA final match against St. Francis (21-9, 8-2) Nov. 3.
Top-seeded Anoka needed a fifth game to defeat third-seeded St. Francis in yet another close match between the neighboring schools.
The Saints began with a surge of energy to win the opening game 26-24 but that energy seemed to fade in the second game as Anoka quickly pulled even with a 25-9 score in game two. Needing to quell the momentum, St. Francis won the third game 25-23 to take a 2-1 lead and move to within one game win of its first state tournament appearance. Anoka put those thoughts to rest, winning the final two games 25-14 and 15-10.
St. Francis won the first meeting of the season, which also went to five games, at Anoka High School Aug. 28. It was only the second match of the season for both squads and both admitted, Saturday’s game was much different. “The kids have been playing a lot better,” Saints coach Tracey Norton said. “Lately our players have stepped up blocking, defensively and setting to our second setter more.”
Anoka coach Chris Fenwick said the Saints always raise its level against the Tornadoes and they were ready to face St. Francis stand-out senior Maggie Ewen. “Maggie is super tough and I think we limited her. I highly doubt she got [as many kills as she did against Elk River] and it’s a tribute to our front row.”
Ewen still had a game-high 16 kills and came up big on the defensive side with 17 digs and two blocks. Norton said: “We always use [Ewen] no matter what. We move her around [the court], no matter where we put her she’s our go-to person.”
Anoka captain Hailee Gifford said they knew Ewen would get her points, but they wanted to keep it to the minimum. “We just had to play our game and she’s going to get some really good hits because she’s really good, but I think we did a good job of keeping it to a minimum,” Gifford said.
Early on, the Saints held the edge in momentum and carried that through to win the first game, which ignited the Saints student section as they won the all-important first game 26-24. Anoka started strong with a 9-3 lead in the second game and went on to win it 25-9 to even the match at 1-1.
Game three began well for St. Francis as Anoka’s errors began to pile up. The Saints led 8-4 early and trailed 17-16 before regaining the lead for a 25-23 win as Ewen split an Anoka double block for the point and a 2-1 lead for the Saints. Anoka rebounded in the fourth game as it pounded out kill shots from the middle with Kelci and Kassi Green along with Mikayla Hong from the outside. Anoka built a 17-7 lead before the Saints tried to come back. Saints senior Angie Roberts gave its fans a big reason to cheer with some strong serving. She had four aces during an 8-0 run to cut Anoka’s lead to 19-16. Anoka stayed strong to hold on for a 25-18 win.
“I thought we pulled some momentum into that fifth game, but [Anoka’s] serve receive was on and when they can get the ball to those middle [hitters] they have a nice attack,” Norton said.
Tornadoes junior Megan Lindenfelser and Gifford helped dig those serves and finished with 19 and 16 digs, respectively. Lindenfelser finished with 14 kills and two blocks to show her ability to play anywhere on the court, including the front court with Kelci and Kassi Green. The twins finished with 29 kills and five blocks between them, with Kassi contributing 15 kills and three blocks.
Anoka kept its composure in the final game to win 15-10. Fenwick put the final points in clear perspective. He attributes this season’s success to the previous year. “I ended up benching a lot of my juniors and that game against Andover [same court as Saturday’s game] and this whole squad was out there,” he said as the Huskies ended Anoka’s season in 2011. “Kelci was out there for the game point against Andover and she chose to roll-shot it and you saw [the difference] right there. She chose to pound the ball. It’s all confidence and if they have it they can compete with anybody.”
Kelci scored the final point on a kill shot in the middle of the court before she turned, dropped to her knees and let the celebration begin. “I didn’t see a block so I just swung away,” she added about the final point. “We knew we wanted it more.” On returning to state: “It’s amazing to be that one team that broke the streak.”
Anoka’s girls’ basketball team ended another long streak with another memorable run to the state tournament in 2011. Gifford was a key sophomore on that squad and said she felt more pressure to succeed this fall. “Expectations as the top seed put more pressure on us and I think we played really well. It’s just as exciting as it was to get to state in basketball,” she said.
Fenwick said the comparisons between the volleyball and basketball teams are few and far between. “Totally separate. These girls are so up-and-down, if they can get their emotions in check they’re solid,” he said.
Anoka ended the regular season with a 3-1 loss to one of the top programs in state and a traditional rival – Blaine. Fenwick felt the result showed some positive improvements of his side heading into sections. “That actually made us feel really good, knowing we could compete with them. And again, on that one, the only reason Blaine won was that we didn’t put the ball down and it was kind of our own errors. [Anoka’s] been playing just good enough and when they’re solid, well that North Branch game was over in just over an hour.”
Anoka drew top-seed Lakeville North in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament. The game is set for a 9 a.m. start, Nov. 9 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.