Tiger pride on display at StateThe Farmington volleyball team had an up and down experience in its first trip to the Class AAA State Tournament.
By: Matt Steichen, The Farmington Independent
The Farmington volleyball team had an up and down experience in its first trip to the Class AAA State Tournament.
The Tigers faltered in a competitive three-game loss to second-seeded Burnsville in the opening round on Thursday morning and trailed Alexandria 2-0 in Friday’s consolation semifinal before rallying for a thrilling five-game victory. They came back and played point for point with eighth-ranked Andover throughout the fifth-place game on Saturday, but the Huskies came up with the big points late in all three games to score a sweep.
The loss ended Farmington’s season at 20-12 and ended the high school volleyball careers of nine seniors: Alexia Rains, Rachel Sand, Danielle Dombeck, Lauren McHenry, Erin Wynings, Elizabeth Pappenfus, Samme Skokan, Meredith Gulsvig and Emily Baago.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” fourth-year head coach Mike Woody said. “It was really emotional in the locker room even before the Burnsville match with the girls being excited to be there and realizing what they’d done. It was really a fitting end for a really good group of girls that worked hard not just on the volleyball court but in school and are involved in a lot of activities.”
The team’s efforts were acknowledged throughout the three-day tournament by a large contingent of orange-and-black-wearing Farmington fans who made the trip to Xcel Energy Center.
“The fans came in huge numbers. I was impressed with the amount of class they showed and the support they gave the team,” Woody said. “Even when we were down big in Game 3 against Burnsville the kids were cheering and singing the pride song and telling the girls they were still proud of them. We were just overwhelmed by the pride showed by the team and the kids supporting them.”
The Tigers themselves were back at Xcel Center Saturday night supporting Missota Conference rival Shakopee, which capped off a perfect 32-0 season with a four-game victory over Wayzata in the Class AAA finals.
It was the Tori Dixon show in Thursday’s opening-round contest.
The 6-foot-3 University of Minnesota recruit and state kills leader set the tone by pounding five straight balls to the floor to start Game 1 and eventually racked up 25 kills in a 25-21, 25-19, 25-11 Blaze victory.
Farmington kept pace throughout most of the first two games. The Tigers never led in Game 1, but got as close as 18-21 on a kill by all-tournament selection Katie Habeck. Kills by Wynings and Dombeck made it 21-24, but Dixon’s 11th kill of the game gave Burnsville the 1-0 lead.
The Tigers jumped out to a 4-1 advantage to start Game 2, but three straight Dixon kills and one of Dixon’s three ace serves gave the Blaze the lead for good at 7-6.
The gap spread to seven points before two points by Habeck and one on a block by Jordan Bridges helped the Tigers creep back within three at 17-20. But Dixon once again provided Burnsville’s final surge, hitting two more ace serves and drilling the game-winning 25th point to wrap up Game 2.
After fighting an uphill battle in the first two games, the Tigers fell behind 6-0 and never mounted a serious threat in Game 3.
“I think a lot of the loss to Burnsville was contributed to a little shell shock and the awe of being (at the state tournament),” Woody said. “We didn’t play anywhere close to our potential even though we kept the score close.”
Habeck and Dombeck each finished with seven kills. Sand had 15 set assists as the team put up just 20 total kills while committing 16 errors in 90 total attacks.
Defensively, Rains had 10 digs and Dombeck added eight.
Thursday’s struggles carried over into the first two games of Friday’s match, but the Tigers refused to go quietly.
With Alexandria on the verge of a sweep, leading 20-19 in Game 3, Dombeck came through with an ace serve that turned the momentum back to the Farmington side. Alexandria made one last run to tie the score at 23-23, but a kill by Habeck and a Cardinals hitting error gave Game 3 to the Tigers.
The Tigers carried that momentum over into Game 4 and surged to a 9-1 lead before coasting to a 25-12 victory to even the matches at 2-2.
Alexandria was once again threatening to put the game away in Game 5, pulling ahead 9-6, but two kills by Dombeck sandwiched around an ace serve from Sand quickly knotted the score at 9-9. The Tigers capped off the deciding game with a 9-2 run — the final point coming on Habeck’s 31st kill — to score the 15-11 victory.
“Friday they relaxed and let themselves play and something clicked,” Woody said. “I couldn’t be prouder of their performance on Friday. We played well in every category in games 3, 4 and 5.”
Dombeck backed Habeck with 14 kills, three ace serves and 16 digs. Sand put up 47 assists and Rains (20) and Pappenfus (11) each reached double figures in digs.
Saturday’s consolation final seemed to follow a similar script to Thursday’s opener against Burnsville as the Tigers hung around against a strong opponent but couldn’t finish off their first two games, then faded away in Game 3.
Game 1 was tied 22-22 before Andover scored the final three points. An 18-21 score turned into a 20-25 final in Game 2 and an 8-7 lead morphed into an 11-21 deficit in Game 3.
Dombeck capped off her record-setting career at Farmington with a team-leading 16 kills and eight digs. Habeck had 13 kills and six blocks and Sand provided 30 assists.
Rains once again led the back row with 21 digs and 22 serve receptions.