State volleyball: New Life Academy rallies to beat West Central and advance to semifinals

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New Life Academy of Woodbury beat West Central in five sets in a Class A state volleyball quarterfinal Thursday night at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Eagles emerged from the back-and-forth match with a 25-22, 16-25, 18-25, 25-18, 15-12 victory.

No. 4-seeded New Life Academy takes on the top-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at the Xcel Energy Center. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton swept unseeded Pine River-Backus in their quarterfinal.

Momentum looked to be in the hands of West Central after decisive wins in the second and third sets put the Knights just a set away from victory.

But New Life wouldn’t be put down so easily. In the fourth set, 6-foot-2 senior Makenzie Anderstrom and 6-foot sophomore Marisa Michaelis made getting the ball over the net tough for West Central and regained the momentum for the Eagles, who completed the comeback by winning the fifth set.

New Life head coach Dede Lawson said that this year being the team’s second time at the state tournament played a role in pulling out the victory in a game where they expected a tough battle.

“This is our second year here, and West Central’s first year,” she said. “I think that gave us a little edge, that we had quite a few players that have been here last year and played. And so I think that helped them be a little more relaxed and have a little more experience in that moment, and they handled that a little bit better.”

“As a team, the nerves weren’t as high; it was more excitement,” junior Makenna Lilly said. “Since a lot of the lineup has been here before, we were able to calm those younger girls down, I think, and that was good for them, to see that someone else was calm.”

Players said the pressure of going into the final set with the season on the line is a moment they relish.

“It was unreal,” Lilly said. “These are the moments you want as an athlete. These comeback moments, these big-time plays that you want. I think our team overall is just happy that we pushed through that fourth set, and then it’s like, ‘We want this,’ and then we just acted like it.”

Senior captain Addi Ross said that in the past few weeks, the team has made an effort to not look too far down the road.

“Just these last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about taking things one step at a time, one point at a time,” Ross said. “I don’t think our team was even thinking about how this is the fifth set, we need 15 points to win this. We just wanted to take it one step at a time, one point at a time. Everyone there was so determined to do their job.”

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