Volleyball: Tigers qualify for StateMayo Civic Center was a venue full of bad memories for the Farmington volleyball team.
By: Matt Steichen, The Farmington Independent
Mayo Civic Center was a venue full of bad memories for the Farmington volleyball team.
But that was before Saturday night. Before the Tigers beat top-seeded Rochester Century in a five-game thriller to earn the program’s first trip to the state tournament. The Panthers led two games to one before the Tigers rallied to win the last two games — the last point of Game 5 coming on a kill by senior standout Danielle Dombeck that set off a celebration on the Farmington side.
“It was a lot of fun. That feeling at the end was just indescribable,” head coach Mike Woody said. “There was a lot of excitement and a lot of emotion.”
The Tigers were 16-11, 22-6 and 20-6 the last three years — Woody’s first three as head coach — but all three seasons ended in Section 1AAA losses to Rochester Mayo in Rochester. This year’s team avoided the Spartans in the bracket and navigated its way through to the championship game with a first-round bye and victories over Hastings and Faribault. The Tigers will take a six-game winning streak and a 19-10 record into today’s 11 a.m. opening-round game against No. 2-seeded Burnsville.
“Getting the monkey off our back in that building was nice,” Woody said. “A few of them have been playing for quite a long time on the varsity and been through losses the last few years. It was pretty cool for them to break through.”
Dombeck, one of the team’s nine seniors, has been a regular on each of the last four teams. Fittingly, she supplied the winning kills in each of the final two games and finished with 17 kills and a season-high 36 digs. Woody said the scrappy play of Dombeck and back row players like seniors Alexia Rains (19 digs), Elizabeth Pappenfus (16 digs) and Lauren McHenry (13 digs, 10 kills) helped the Tigers get back into Game 4, turning an 11-7 deficit into a 15-12 lead.
“There were plays where it looked like they were going to get a kill and we would lay out and keep a ball alive and turn it into a big point for us. Those were big momentum swings,” Woody said. “Then our middle started running with authority again and you could see a light bulb come on and we got more comfortable.”
That connection in the middle led to a season-high 31 kills for junior Katie Habeck and a season-high 59 set assists for senior setter Rachel Sand. Habeck and Jordan Bridges also helped slow the Century offense with 13 and eight blocks, respectively.
Habeck came up big in Game 1 as the Tigers jumped out to an early lead and scored a 25-21 win. The Tigers were up 22-19 in Game 2 before Century went on a 6-0 service run to even the match. The Panthers carried that momentum over into Game 3 and led from start to finish in a 25-19 contest.
“Our downfall in Game 3 was not letting go of Game 2,” Woody said. “Those are tough when you control a game and you can’t stop the bleeding and get the win.”
Game 5 was tied five times, but the Tigers kept coming up with key points to keep momentum on their side. Century scored its final point to close the gap to 14-13, but Woody said his team remained confident and focused with the game on the line.
“The girls were looking at the server and you could see they wanted the ball so they could get it in Rachel’s hands and put it away,” he said. “To win it that way, you couldn’t write a better script.”
Unlike past years, the final scenes of this season’s script won’t take place in Rochester. The Tigers will have a chance to get revenge against a Burnsville team that beat them 2-0 at the Blazer Invitational Oct. 9 at the National Volleyball Center. Farmington hasn’t lost since that tournament and the Blaze (21-9) haven’t lost since a five-game setback Oct. 6 at Eagan. Since then they’ve won 10 in a row, including decisions over ranked teams from Hutchinson, Lakeville South, Eagan, Lakeville North and Eastview. The Blaze won Section 3AAA with a five-game victory over the Lightning on Saturday.
“We didn’t match up with them too badly. We didn’t hit too effectively in that game and that was our downfall,” Woody said. “The girls are excited having played our opponent before and they really feel like they can win that match. Hopefully we can keep a little fire going, have fun and execute.”