State volleyball: Anoka outlasts Eagan in thrilling five-set quarterfinal

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Eagan dug itself holes numerous times against Anoka throughout their Class 4A state volleyball quarterfinal Friday at Xcel Energy Center. And on numerous occasions, the Wildcats successfully battled back.

But their final dilemma proved to be too much to overcome, as fourth-seeded Eagan was bounced in five sets by fifth-seeded Anoka, 29-27, 28-26, 26-28, 26-28, 15-4 in a thrilling quarterfinal.

“Yeah, fighting from behind is exhausting. The whole time you’re trying to push, you’re trying to fight,” Eagan coach McKenna Melville said. “That team was a really good defensive team. We knew that coming in, and we just had to keep on fighting. … We made it harder for ourselves.”

And they almost came through. The Wildcats trailed 18-9 in the second set before rallying to push it to extra points. But they weren’t able to finish off the set, creating a 2-0 hole for the match.

Eagan continued to start slow in sets but rallied to win each of the final two to force a fifth set.

“We’re fighters, through and through. We’re not going to let a game go without doing our absolute best, and today that was our absolute best,” senior setter Ava Bertsch said. “I think regardless of what team we play, we’re like, ‘No, we’re going to fight,’ because that’s who we’re meant to be. We fight for each other. … We just won’t quit.”

Eagan’s rally shifted the pressure to Anoka (26-3), which was playing in its first state tournament since 2012. Anoka coach Chris Fenwick said his team “thrives off pressure.”

True to form, sophomore Hayden Reeder’s mindset heading into the fifth was simply “we’re going to crush this.” They did, controlling the entire set en route to an impressive closeout.

“They played with a lot of heart and will,” Fenwick said, “and they showed that they’re definitely the high-caliber team we thought we were at the start of the year, and we just proved it just now.”

Logan Brent led Anoka with 28 kills, with Reeder tacking on 24. The Tornadoes will take on Goliath — err, three-time defending state champion Wayzata — in the semis at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Trojans (32-0) downed Edina in three sets Wednesday.

A battle with the state’s powerhouse with a state championship game spot on the line. Not bad for a program that hadn’t been to state in more than a decade.

“You look at Anoka volleyball and you don’t really expect them to put it to people,” Reeder said. “We definitely do, and we have confidence. Underdog for me, personally, is the best.”

Eagan was a bit of a surprise entrant after downing No. 2-ranked East Ridge in the section finals. Still, state was where first-year Wildcats coach McKenna Melville envisioned her program.

“I knew what it was to be at state. I knew the feeling, I knew the adrenaline. … I knew what it took,” said Melville, who starred for Eagan as a player. “Ultimately, that is the goal, but I don’t think the goal in my brain ever stopped at, ‘Oh, let’s get to the state tournament.’ The goal in everyone’s head should never be, ‘Oh, I just want to get to the state tournament.’

“So that’s things we can learn from, and I think now we’re the new kids on the block again and we’re back and we’re ready to go.”

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