Volleyball: Anoka outlasts Andover in five-set thriller

Anoka reacts after fighting off a pair of set points and taking the crucial third set 28-26 in what proved to be a five-set victory at Andover on Tuesday, Photo by Patrick Slack

The match could have easily began with the fifth set. It seemed destined to go the distance from the start.

Fortunately it didn’t, though, as it would have robbed the back-and-forth drama that built throughout the night.

In the end, Anoka outlasted host Andover in a five-set thriller on Tuesday night in a showdown of top Northwest Suburban Conference and Section 7AAA opponents.

After a split of the opening two sets, the match turned in set three.

Andover raced out to a 10-3 lead, but an 8-1 Anoka run leveled the set at 11-11.

Still, the Tornadoes couldn’t snatch a lead until finally going ahead 24-23 and gaining a set point.

The Huskies would keep the set alive, however, then gain two set points of their own, the last coming at 26-25.

But Anoka rattled off the final three points of the crucial set to take the lead in the match.

Andover bounced back to take the fourth set 25-20, but Anoka controlled the decisive fifth set 15-7 to gain the win.

The victories have come in bunches this month for Anoka, which recently won eight in a row after a 1-2 start.

“The wins lately are a good confidence booster,” Anoka head coach Chris Fenwick said. “The girls needed a few of those matches to get their offense going and work on a few things. Hopefully when we get into the second half of the season, which is a much tougher schedule, the offense will continue to improve and score us some points.”

The Tornadoes have relied heavily on a few key players in the middle during the run. The goal now is to build around them.

“My setter Sam Thomas is a workhorse and it is tough to take her off the floor,” Fenwick said. “Carly Burandt has been our main go-to when we need a kill. In order to be successful in the second half, we are going to need to generate some offense from our other hitters.

“Our serve receive has struggled in the first half, but I am hoping this changes and then gives our hitters a better chance at kills and getting that consistency up.”

The Tornadoes will be put to the test even more down the stretch, taking on Robbinsdale Armstrong, Elk River, Blaine, Maple Grove and Champlin Park in the regular season’s final weeks.

After that, Anoka gets a shot at the wide open Section 7AAA field.

“If we can go .500 the rest of the year, that would be a good goal going into sections, where I think any team in our section has a chance to win,” Fenwick said. “I have not seen a team from our section truly dominate any of the other teams in our section.”

Andover has enjoyed a solid start as well, with its record at 8-8 after Tuesday’s match.

“This season has gone well,” Andover head coach Connie Huberty said. “Many of the players are returners since we only graduated three seniors. We have been building on the foundation set last year. We were very young last year and unseasoned. We are playing as a more cohesive team and know each other better after a season together. I can see that they are more confident and their skill development from last season to now has improved tremendously.

“We have more options offensively this year. Last year we relied heavily on one or two experienced varsity players and this season we have a well-rounded attack. The team also seems to be able to shake off errors and move on to the next play – this is part of the growth I have seen in them as individuals and collectively.”

Andover also competes in Section 7AAA and figures to be a contender as well once the postseason rolls around.

“We have gotten better every match so I am hoping we can end in the top half of our conference and are ready to make a run at section time,” Huberty said. “We are a different team today than we were in August and in October we will be better than in September.”

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