PREP VOLLEYBALL: Claiming three straight state titles very rare

ST. PAUL?- Most teams only dream about making it to the state tournament.

And while only a small number of those are able to realize their dreams, even fewer actually earn a state tournament title. So, the fact that the Marshall Tiger volleyball team won its third straight Class AA state crown on Saturday is remarkably rare.

Of the 450 high school volleyball teams in Minnesota this season – which also marks the MSHSL’s 40th year for hosting a volleyball state tournament – only three state champions were crowned with Chaska Southwest Christian in Class A, Marshall in Class 2A and Eagan in Class 3A.

“I thought we stayed really focused the entire tournament and that’s just something we’ve been struggling with all season,” Marshall setter/hitter Sydney Griffin said. “But especially in that third game (of the championship match against Hill-Murray), we really pushed and pushed and we got it done. It feels incredible. It’s such a great feeling.”

The Tigers are only the fifth team, in any of the three classes, to earn a state champion three-peat in volleyball. Class 2A Robbinsdale Armstrong dominated the competition in the early 1980s, collecting five straight state volleyball titles from 1980 to 1984.

Tracy-Milroy, before neighboring Balaton joined, earned three state Class A titles from 1994 to 1996, while Central Minnesota Christian School won three straight from 1998-2000.

In Class AAA, Shakopee recorded a three-peat from 2007-2009.

“The three-peat means the world to me because our team worked so hard,” Marshall senior right-side hitter Emma Doyle said. “We deserve it. I’m proud of my team for everything we’ve done this season.”

Six seniors led the 2013 squad from southwest Minnesota, providing solid veteran leadership. Griffin and outside hitter Kenzie Beekman are four-year starters, while libero Hannah Bennett, setter Rachel Sanow and defensive specialist Stephanie Baker are three-year starters.

“They have that rare combination of talent, hard work and great focus,” Tigers head coach Dan Westby said. “When you combine those three things, it’s pretty tough to beat. We’re going to miss that from this group, there’s no doubt about it.”

While the Class 2A powerhouse kept its No. 1 ranking all season, the Tigers knew that they still had to perform in order to make history. Along with the three-peat, Marshall ended its season at 32-3 overall and on a 19-match winning streak.

Bennett said she credited the entire team for making it happen.

“You don’t want to end your senior year with any losses,” Bennett said. “You just want to go out on a winning streak, so there’s so much pressure on the line. But we had so many people behind us this year, pushing us through and making us better players. The younger girls have done that. It’s incredible what they’ve given us.”

Baker said she wouldn’t trade the experience this past season for anything.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” she said. “I’m sad that it’s over. We’ve spent so much time in volleyball and it’s been so fun. To win another state championship is incredible.”

Beekman said she credited the team’s unity and support for each other as one of the reasons for their success.

“I think our team chemistry is what helped us,” Beekman said. “We’re so close. We’re literally best friends. We’re family. To play with these girls, it’s the best.”

Sanow agreed, noting that she had a good time playing volleyball with her teammates. She’s amazed that it resulted in three straight state titles, though.

“It’s just been great fun,” Sanow said. “We played really well together.”

While the senior players are proud of their accomplishments, the feat also brought an end to the hard-fought journey, making the experience somewhat of an emotional roller-coaster during the state tournament.

“I’m feeling happy, sad, all of the above,” Beekman said. “I just don’t want it to be done. But it has to be. It couldn’t have ended any better, though. State champs three years in a row.”

Beekman, Griffin and Bennett also received individual recognition, earning All-State honors in addition to being named to the 2013 All-State Tournament team. Beekman was also one of five candidates for Miss Volleyball this season, which went to Lakeville North’s Alyssa Goehner.

Along with the memories, Beekman said she’ll miss all the girls, Coach Westby and the other coaches.

Bennett agreed.

“We put in so much time and even through the bad times, we’d find a way to get a few giggles in,” Bennett said. “It’s going to be missed.”

While the conclusion of the 2013 volleyball season marks the end of an era, a new one will begin next year. Sanow offered some advice to the returning players.

“Just work hard and try to get better every single day,” Sanow said. “And play for each other.”

Junior middle hitter Callie Graff and sophomores Marah Mulso (middle hitter) and Lexi Saugstad (outside hitter) are returning starters who are expected to lead the Tigers next season.

“Hopefully, the kids coming up will use (the seniors’) example and it won’t be such a difficult transition,” Westby said. “We’ll have to wait and see. But I would anticipate that the kids coming back will get in the gym and they’re work hard. They won’t give anybody anything a year from now. Our expectations will certainly remain high. We’ll get after it.”

Marshall is considered one of the premier programs in Minnesota, recording 25 trips to the State Volleyball Tournament. This year marked the 13th straight trip for the Tigers. And in addition to the past three years, Marshall has also earned state volleyball championships in 2004, 2007 and 2009.

2013 Class AA Volleyball All-State Tournament Team

Kenzie Beekman, outside hitter, Marshall; Hannah Bennett, libero, Marshall; Sydney Griffin, setter, Marshall; Mariena Hayden, outside hitter, Belle Plaine; Brooklyn Lewis, middle hitter, Kasson-Mantorville; Hailey Busch, outside hitter, Kasson-Mantorville; Brianna Rasmusson, setter, Fergus Falls; Laura Gaustad, outside hitter, Fergus Falls; Kennedy Fabian, setter, Maplewood Hill-Murray; Rachel Kueppers, outside hitter, Maplewood Hill-Murray.