ST. PAUL — Throughout the past few years, Henning volleyball coach Kristy Finck has been bringing her team to the Minnesota state volleyball tournament. But this year was different, for the first time, her team would be competing, rather than watching from the stands.
When the Henning volleyball team took down Wadena-Deer Creek back on Nov. 2, it marked a first for the Hornets, the win secured their first ever birth to the state volleyball tournament.
On Thursday, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown welcomed Henning to the big stage with a 25-11, 25-20, 25-18 win in the quarterfinal stage of the Class 1A state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
Despite the loss, Finck and company are keeping their heads high as this new experience isn’t over yet. Henning will look for that first state tournament win when it faces Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa at 3 p.m. Friday.
“Walking through that tunnel for the first time is like, ‘Ooh,’ it was awesome for the girls to just see,” Finck said.
Henning had just one lead in the three sets, the very first point of the match, before the Buccaneers finished on a 13-2 run to close out the first set.
The second set was closer, and at one point, the Hornets trailed just 15-12 midway through the second. Once again, W-E-M’s superior serving and overall height was too much for Henning.
“We are used to being in control on offense from start to finish and wow, man, they’re good,” Finck said. “They have weapons in all areas, they were in control of offense pretty much from start to finish.”
W-E-M would open the third on a 9-1 run, a lead the Buccaneers (33-2) wouldn't give up en route to the three-set win.
But Finck knows this tournament is far from over, and she is looking forward to her team, which stands at 24-8 on the year, putting together some solid volleyball.
“Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to pass a little better so we can control the offense a little bit more,” Finck said.
For the players, it was their first steps onto the Xcel Energy Center floor as one of the final 24 teams standing in the state.
“It’s been a dream of ours for a really long time to be down here, it’s a fun atmosphere, and I’m excited to be here representing my hometown,” said setter Sydney Eckhoff.
Eckhoff’s 25 assists and eight digs weren’t the only thing that anchored this Hornets squad. Despite the scoreline, the senior was the first one up, clapping, and pumping her team up for the next point, something Eckhoff says is crucial in the game of volleyball.
“That’s a really important part of our team. We are always trying to lift each other up,” Eckhoff said, adding she feels obligated to lead the team throughout the match. “I try to take on that role because I want my players to play with the most confidence so they can build each other up.”
With Eckhoff’s encouragement, the team showed less negativity and more willingness to try and figure out W-E-M’s gameplan. Megan Rinicker found some range on offense with nine kills, while Kylee Mesker chipped in 15 digs.
“My girls started to get touches on blocks, and when we started hitting at them, they got rattled a bit and had a couple little comebacks,” Finck said.
The Hornets will look to bounce back in Friday's elimination game.
“We need to come back tomorrow and refocus, and try to get a win,” Finck said. “If it’s one (win) awesome, if it’s two, great, if we come away with none, then we’ll come away with experience and hopefully we can be back next year.”