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Champlin Park edged Eagan for Class 3A volleyball title

November 11, 2018

It was the ending the high school volleyball world wanted to see. And it proved worthy of every expectation.

Champlin Park, arguably the deepest team in Class 3A, outlasted Eagan, the most state tournament-tested team in the field, 25-18, 25-18, 21-25, 22-25, 15-12.

The match ebbed and flowed, darted and dipped, momentum switching its allegiance repeatedly throughout the match.

“That was probably the match everybody was hoping for,” Champlin Park head coach John Yunker said. “Hats off to Eagan. They’re a great team.”

Champlin Park came out firing in the first set, blazing to a 5-0 lead. It was a margin they never relinquished, controlling the action to win the first set 25-18.

Eagan, which was playing in its sixth consecution final, appeared to correct itself early in the second set, but the back row mistakes — passing and serve receiving — continued to show through.

Much of that was because of Champlin Park’s varied attack. Setter Izzy Ashburn, who finished with 57 set assists, conducted the Rebels offense with a maestro’s touch, rarely setting the same attacker twice in a row and keeping the Eagan blockers guessing. Champlin Park rolled through the latter half of the set to take another 25-18 victory.

Things got tighter in the third set as it became Champlin Park’s turn to show cracks in its exterior. Eagan exploited Rebels’ errors, cutting the deficit to 2-1 with a 25-21 set victory.

The fourth set was notable as much for its drama as its quality of play. The two teams took turns taking one-point leads, only to see the other strike back. Eagan took control late in the set, scoring the final three points. The last came on a kill down the line by super-sophomore Kennedi Orr, for a 25-22 victory, setting up the winner-take-all fifth set.

“Our defense got better,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. “Finally, they were scrambling a little bit more than we were.”

Champlin Park took a four-point lead early in the final set, leaning on the powerful arm of hitter Lauren Clark. The Rebels maintain that lead, building it to 12-8, before Eagan once again rallied. The Wildcats cut the margin to one point, 12-11, but that was as close as they would get. Champlin Park won three of the last four points, the final coming on a service error by Orr, triggering an emotion-laced pile of Rebels in the middle of floor.

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. “We knew they were good. I’m glad we came back and won a couple, but I expected a battle.”

Being the first team in school history to win a team championship added a little luster to the Rebels’ victory.

“I think it would feel this great anyway, but, at the same time, to have the school on our backs like this just makes it even better,” Ashburn said.

Libero Kaitlyn Weimerskirch agreed. “It was a lot of pressure going into it because we wanted to do it for our school,” she said. “Being able to accomplish our goal, finally, feels amazing.”

Eagan beat Champlin Park in the 2016 championship match.

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