Defending champs sweep Blaine into third place game

Winning a game at state was a reasonable goal for Blaine this year. The No. 2 seeded Bengals came into state riding a 20-match winning streak and pushed it to 21 games after a 3-0 win in the state quarterfinals over Bemidji.

Blaine players react after the final point drops to complete an amazing comeback in the Class AAA state third place match against Shakopee. The Bengals won the fifth set 15-12 Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo by Jason Olson

Thursday’s win propelled Blaine (30-2) into the Class AAA state semifinals for the second time since 2006 where No. 3 seed and defending Class AAA state champion Eden Prairie waited for them Friday morning.

Eden Prairie swept the Bengals into the third place game with a 3-0 score (25-17, 25-19, 25-23).

Blaine coach Celeste Gorman said the Eagles played as close to a perfect game as a coach could hope. “Gotta give credit to Eden Prairie. They battled and played almost no error ball and our errors killed us,” she said. “We definitely needed to do a better job of controlling the ball.”

Blaine had 27 errors while Eden Prairie limited its mistakes to 15 (13 came on hitting). “We can’t give a team like Eden Prairie 27 points like that and have a real chance,” Gorman said. Blaine won the previous meeting this season in the third place game at the Apple Valley Invitational in September. Blaine won that match 2-1 with a 15-12 third set instead of the typical five set format.

Eden Prairie senior hitter Sarah Wilhite, the 2012 Ms. Volleyball award winner celebrated the honor with an emphatic 22-kill, 11-dig performance. She finished with a .320 hitting percentage as the team hit .295 as a team, compared to Blaine’s .228 hitting percentage.

Gorman said the idea to contain their go-to offensive weapon was to funnel her into the heart of the Bengals defense. “And use our block to take away some of the court,” she said. “She’s a phenomenal hitter who sees the court well, picks apart defenses and frustrates a defense.”

Wilhite accounted for 50 of the Eagles 112 attack chances.

“She’s been a part of our program for four years now and is a complete, five-tool player who plays every part of the game at a high level,” Eden Prairie Coach Chad Becker said. “There’s no secret, she’s our go-to player and she delivers even when they try to defend her. She knows we have double and triple blocks but she doesn’t back down.”

On the other hand, Blaine used a variety of players to attack the Eagles as five Bengals had five or more kills.

Sophomore middle hitter Taylor Morgan led the way with 12 kills, five coming in a row during a furious comeback attempt in the third game.  Morgan said she didn’t want to end the game on a bad note: “I was down the other games and after a while, I got tired of being down so I guess I stepped it up.”

Katherine Hawkins had 9 kills and junior Lydia Dimke added 8 kills and 21 assists. Senior Alex Brown had 13 digs, junior Jessica Jorgensen had 9 kills and senior Sierra Trost had five kills and seven digs.

During the Bengals extended winning streak, lasting nearly two months, the Bengals focused on team success as one player would step up if another had an off-night. Those slip-ups were exposed against the level of competition in the state semifinal.

Unfinished business was the t-shirt motto for this year’s Bengals club after overcoming Centennial in an emotional section final only to lose both state games last year. This year the goal was to improve on the state appearance and win a match, which they did. “We wanted to come back to state and pretend like we didn’t even lose last year at state and show everyone we came here to play and we’re going to take whatever we can get,” Morgan said.

That confidence came through in the state quarterfinal win over Bemidji one day earlier. ” We felt good about the Bemdji game. We took care of the ball, passed well and mixed up our offenses,” Gorman said. “We were confident and up for a battle.”

“It was definitely a mission from the beginning of the season,” Gorman said. “But I don’t think state was on our mind. It was a matter of taking care of business and not leaving business unfinished. We felt like we didn’t finish the season we should have and that left us wanting to take care of business.”

The Bengals have a chance to take care of the unfinished business 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon in the Class AAA state third place game against Shakopee.

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