Archive for Kip Kovar

EYE OF THE TIGER: Delano comes through in clutch spots to reach state title game

ST. PAUL – The hardest point to score is the final one. The Delano volleyball team knows all about that as they’ve been locked in tight battles throughout the postseason.

Needing just one more point to secure their spot in the Class AAA state title game, the Tigers were given a run for their money down the stretch but managed to close things out in a 3-0 (25-22, 27-25, 25-16) sweep to reach the Class AAA state title match Friday.

“I’m really proud of this bunch,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “Byron is a really solid and tough team. To win in three is a huge accomplishment.”

Delano was in control of things after winning the first two sets in thrilling fashion. Despite being in command, the Tigers knew it wasn’t over heading into the third set.

“Everyone here is well deserving of being here,” Rue said. “These teams are really good and we know that. We knew we had to stay focused and come out knowing this wasn’t going to be easy.”

It looked as if Delano was going to run away with things leading 24-8. That wasn’t the case. Byron rattled off eight in a row to get back into it but finally Taylor Tool delivered the kill and finishing touch to complete the sweep, the 27th sweep of the season by Delano.

“We’ve always been a team that believes in ourselves and knows that no matter what the outcome is, we know we tried our best,” Kate Halvorson said. “No matter what the outcome of this game was, we would have been proud of each other.”

The sweep wouldn’t have been possible without a team effort in the first two sets. Down 17-13 in the opening set, Delano rallied back thanks to big kills from Sydney Pink down the stretch.

“Our setters did an amazing job of moving things around,” Kaelyn Wittwer said. “Sydney did a really good job of finding that open space and using the block. It really helped us get through the first two sets.”

With Pink rolling early, that opened things up for everyone else in set two. Down 24-22, a kill from Kayla Heinonen followed by an ace by Lexi Champeau evened things up at 24. Bryon retook the lead at 25-24 but Delano would rattle off three-straight thanks to a kill from Lucy Fobbe followed by an ace and a kill from Pink to put Delano up 2-0.

“We really focus on not looking at the scoreboard,” Rue said. “I always tell them not to worry about the scoreboard and to play Delano volleyball. When they keep themselves composed and they don’t get the mindset of pressure, we play so much better.”

“We were reading the ball so well,” Champeau said about the rally. “They didn’t really know where we were going to go next. Everyone was playing so well.”

Playing smart was a big key for the Tigers in the win, especially in the first two sets. For the match, Delano had just one service error as a team while Byron racked up seven in the first two sets alone giving the Tigers free points in big spots.

“I feel like we still serve aggressively but consistently and smart,” Rue said. “We have that philosophy of knowing we will defend. Today our block was huge. That was a huge factor in our success. When we have a solid block the rest of our defenders know exactly where to go. I’m not sure on the number of blocks we had today but it was big. It just kind of takes them out of their system. These girls did amazing.”

The win for Delano not only sends them to the Class AAA title game but it’s also their third win against a Top 10 team this postseason alone. If the Tigers want to finish things off, they’ll need to do it once more as No. 1 Marshall awaits them in the championship match.

“We do have the mindset of knowing we can play with anyone in the state,” Wittwer said. “We just go into it with confidence and play our game.”

“We’re just going to try and play our best volleyball,” Rue added. “If we play our best, great things can happen.”

CLASS A STATE VOLLEYBALL: Buhr’s hot serving helps Crusaders shake off early nerves in sweep of Ely

ST. PAUL – There’s nothing more that Mayer Lutheran volleyball coach Joelle Grimsley hates more than taking a timeout. Unfortunately for her, one was needed early on as the Crusaders were forced to shake off a sluggish start but responded in a big way in a 3-0 (25-23, 25-13, 25-16) sweep of Ely in the Class A state quarterfinals Thursday night.

“We were a little sporadic,” Grimsley said. “We came out a little cold and they were on fire and kept it really close. We just had to keep digging. We were a little bit tense with the pressure on the other side of the net. It was good to see them fight through it.”

Ely came out ready to roll looking to avenge a loss to the Crusaders in the quarterfinals a year ago. The Timberwolves were on the verge of striking first leading 21-17 but Mayer Lutheran dug deep following a timeout by Grimsley.

“I think I told them to buck up and get focused,” Grimsley said. “I teased them a little bit that it’s the red court they have to hit and not the blue court. They just needed to refocus. We had a lot of freshmen out there so we had to get back to it and refocus.”

They did just that.

Mayer Lutheran finished the opening set on an 8-2 run to take a 1-0 lead with a 25-23 lead. Mari Buhr served up the big run down the stretch for the Crusaders helping take control of the match.

“We just switched that up a few weeks ago,” Grimsley said about Buhr serving. “All of a sudden we saw that she could serve so we decided to start letting her serve. She’s just steady. She’s our secret little weapon over there now. She just goes right where I tell her almost every time. It’s fun to see her step in because we didn’t know we’d ever see that.”

Mayer Lutheran carried the momentum over into set two running away with things but Ely showed they had some fight left to open set three. The Timberwolves jumped out to a 7-2 lead early and forced Grimsley to take a second timeout as the Crusaders trailed 13-8.

“In between sets two and three, when I got to the bench they were a little bit silly and I didn’t like that at all,” she said. “We started that set really slow and we needed to focus and we were so unfocused to start. They kind of thought they had it in the bag and you don’t. People lose when they are up 2-0. At that moment we talked about just focusing.”

Junior Marley Martin helped calm things down on the floor with a kill as Mayer Lutheran began to chip away.

“I was just telling them to take deep breaths and realize it’s just another game,” Marley Martin said about trying to lead the underclassmen. “We just needed to block out (everything). We were a little all over the place trying to take things and see everything.”

Martin’s words of wisdom worked out as Buhr served up another big run for the Crusaders helping them finish the third set on a 17-3 run to complete the sweep and send them to the Class A semifinals.

“It was Mari serving that got them out of system,” Danica Martin said. “They sent over a few (free balls) and we were able to run our fast offense. We had three strong hitters up there with Mari serving and that got us going.”

With the win, Mayer Lutheran advances to the Class A semifinals where they will take on No. 3 Mabel-Canton. The Cougars swept unseeded Badger-Green Bush/Middle River in their quarterfinal matchup.

“They beat us earlier this year,” Grimsley said. “We have a big job to do tomorrow. They’re going to be tough. We’re going to have to come out right away and play hard and play better.”

HOW SWEEP IT IS: Delano opens state tournament run with sweep of Mahtomedi

ST. PAUL – The bright lights of the Xcel Energy Center weren’t too much for the Delano volleyball team. Making their first state tournament appearance since 2013, the Tigers looked right at home as they opened their state tournament run with a 3-0 (25-10, 25-15, 25-17) sweep of Mahtomedi in the Class AAA quarterfinals Wednesday night.

“I’m really proud of this team,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “I feel like we did what has been working for us all season which is a balanced attack. We had a solid block and our defense was tough. It’s been 10 years since Delano has been here and they came out and kept their composure and played really well.”

After a back-and-forth start to things to open the match, Delano took control the rest of the way. They closed the opening set on a 19-4 run including 11-straight points served up by sophomore Kaelyn Wittwer who finished with four aces in the set as Delano grabbed a 1-0 lead. Cassie Wegman was also big down the stretch for the Tigers leading the way with five kills in the first set alone.

Delano kept things rolling in the second and third sets, never letting up as they completed the sweep with a 25-15 win in set two and a 25-17 win in set three.

Coming off a season-high in kills in the section title game, Wegman stayed hot for the Tigers leading the way with a match-high 10 kills as she’s been a big piece of the success for Delano.

“She’s just attacking,” Rue said about Wegman. “Not only that, but tonight she did a really good job of seeing the whole court and picking apart what was open. She rocked it tonight.”

“I’ve just come into it being confident and trying to forget about everything else around me,” Wegman added. “I just have a positive mindset and try to have fun.”

As a team, Delano recorded 14 aces with seven of them coming from Wittwer. Taylor Tool finished with seven kills while Sydney Pink, Lucy Fobbe, and Kayla Heinonen each finished with six kills apiece.

“Our serving was big,” Rue said. “We got on those momentum swings by serving tough. We also really executed when we did get back into our defense.”

With the win, Delano advances to the Class AAA state semifinals Friday against No. 3 Byron at 11 a.m. at the Xcel Energy Center. The Bears won 3-0 against unseeded Monticello in their quarterfinal matchup.


Marshall 3, DeLaSalle 0

Delano 3, Mahtomedi 0

Byron 3, Monticello 0

Detroit Lakes 3, Grand Rapids 0


No. 1 Marshall vs. No. 4 Detroit Lakes, 9 a.m.

No. 2 Delano vs. No. 3 Byron, 11 a.m.

A WINNING TRADITION: High expectations pay off for Mayer Lutheran with third-straight state tournament appearance

MAYER – The Mayer Lutheran volleyball team has had a new look to it in 2023. That doesn’t mean expectations aren’t the same. With just four players on this year’s roster with state tournament experience from a year ago, that hasn’t stopped coach Joelle Grimsley from prepping her team for another state tournament run on the team’s first practice of the season.

“I’m always a believer that we’re doing this for the sole purpose of winning a state title,” she said. “It’s a journey on the way and it’s bumpy at times but our end goal is to always be playing at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. We talked about that on day one. I told them at our section final that we’ve been together for 80 days and to look at what they have all done. On day one we said our goal was to get to the state tournament and then you want to go 3-0. I wouldn’t coach if that wasn’t our goal.”

Grimsley will be the first to admit that things haven’t gone perfectly so far this season but yet the Crusaders are back at the state tournament for the third year in a row.

“Never,” Grimsley said when asked if it ever gets old going to state. “When you don’t go, it’s the worst feeling of all. It’s so busy this week but it’s a fun busy. You’re stressed and nervous all week but when you’re not doing this, you’re wishing you were. I still always get so excited about it.”

One of those key returning players for the Crusaders is senior Danica Martin. A 5-foot-11 middle hitter, Martin brings not only talent but also leadership to Mayer Lutheran as she’ll be at the state tournament for the third time in her high school career.

“I’m so excited,” Martin said. “Going back to state is an experience I’ll never forget, especially being able to bring these underclassmen along as well. It’ll be fun.”

It’s also a special moment for Martin knowing she’ll get one last state tournament experience with her sister Marley who is another key returning player for the Crusaders.

“It means a lot to me,” Danica Martin said. “I’ve been to state for the last three years. In my first few years, I was cheering on the bench some and in the last few years I’ve been really playing. Being able to play once more with my sister on the court is something special. Just having that time on the court together is something special.”

With the Martin sisters leading the charge for Mayer Lutheran on the state’s biggest stage, the duo will also be looking for their new faces to step into their roles as well.

“A lot of the freshmen were at the games last year in the stands,” Grimsley said. “Now it’s a bit different for them that they will be on the court. There’s going to be a lot of girls with first-game jitters for sure but hopefully, we’ll find our rhythm quickly. I have a lot of new people on that court. I have four returning but they were not lead players last year. They’ve grown into that role as the season has gone and have hit their stride these past few weeks.”

Mayer Lutheran cruised through the Section 2A Tournament without dropping a set. They come in as the No. 2 seed and battle-tested as they played a loaded schedule once again to prepare them for the postseason.

“It’s hard at the beginning for these girls to go up against some of the teams we’ve played,” Grimsley said. “It’s shellshocking for the youngsters at times. The older kids know what we do. I’m just so grateful that the bigger schools continue to play us and we can still compete with them. I always stress how important it is to keep those games on our schedule to prepare us. A lot of the great Class A schools are doing that now.”

While there have been bumps along the way, the Crusaders are right where they want to be. Mayer Lutheran lost six matches this season, three of which to teams in this year’s Class A and Class AA state tournament.

“It was really hard and took a lot longer this year than most years to get that chemistry and get things going,” Grimsley said. “They all had to learn their roles. There’s a lot of upperclassmen not playing much right now and that’s tough but they’ve done a great job of building each other up and knowing what they do.”

“Our team chemistry has only gotten better,” sophomore setter Izzy Keaveny added.

Mayer Lutheran opens the Class A state tournament taking on unseeded Ely in the state quarterfinals. The Wolves are 26-5 on the season and looking for revenge after losing to the Crusaders 3-1 in the state quarterfinals last season.

SECTION 6AAA VOLLEYBALL: Tigers rally past Northfield for Section 6AAA title

WACONIA – All season long the Delano volleyball team has been up to the challenge. That was the case once again for the Tigers as they battled Northfield for the Section 6AAA title.
Down 2-0 after two sets, Delano dug deep and rallied all the way back for a thrilling 3-2 (29-31, 18-25, 25-19, 25-22, 16-14) over the Raiders Nov. 2 for the first section title since 2013.

“It’s kind of crazy to think it was ten years ago that Delano made it to State,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “To be honest, the time has flown by. We have competed in a few section title games since that time so to finally win that title game feels amazing. After being down 0-2, I’m so proud of this group.”

The first set was a tone-setter for the rest of the night. The Tigers had a 22-20 lead in the opening set, their biggest lead of the set. Northfield had the answer though with four straight points to retake the lead setting up an exciting finish. Down 24-22, a service error and an attack error by the Raiders ties things up at 24. Both teams exchanged blows down the stretch. Each team fought off four set points but in the end, it was Northfield who emerged on top. After a kill from Sydney Pink gave the Tigers a 29-28 lead, the Raiders answered with three-straight points to claim a 1-0 lead with a 31-29 victory.

Northfield rode that momentum in set two and took a commanding 2-0 lead with a 25-18 win but Delano refused to go down without a fight.

“Dropping set one was tough, and then we came out a little flat in set two,” Rue said. “After set two I told the girls they better be ready for a long night. I knew they had it in them to win the last three sets. We just needed to adjust to a few of Northfield’s tendencies, communicate, and believe.”

The Tigers did just that. A 25-19 win in set three and a 25-22 win in set four set up a decisive fifth set for the section title that saw extra points be needed to determine a winner once again.

Delano opened the fifth and final set with all the momentum. Cassie Wegman got things rolling with a kill and then Kaelyn Wittwer would add an ace and Lucy Fobbe would add a kill of her own to give the Tigers an early 3-0 lead out of the gate. Northfield was knocked back on their heels as Delano extended their lead to 9-4 but the Raiders never gave up. Northfield used a 4-0 run to get back within one but Pink and Wegman delivered back-to-back kills to snap the run by the Raiders to give Delano an 11-8 lead.

Despite all the momentum on Delano’s side, Northfield had one last run in them. A 4-0 run gave them a 12-11 lead, their first lead of the set. The Tigers would never panic as they would go on to score five of the final seven points as kills from Wegman and Tool sealed the win and the section title for Delano.

“I don’t know if you could have asked for a closer section championship,” Rue said. “Northfield is one of the top teams in the state and to come back after being down 0-2 takes a lot of heart and grit. When asked what has been the key to our success it definitely is the fact that we are so unselfish. I think we wore down Northfield with our balanced attack. I think that this balanced attack has made it difficult for other teams to understand our game plan and tendencies.”

The Tigers are back at the Class AAA state tournament for the first time since 2013 when they finished as runner-ups. Delano earned the No. 2 seed and will face off against unseeded Mahtomedi in the state quarterfinals.

“We are so excited for this week and the opportunity to compete at state,” Rue said. “Our fan base has also been absolutely outstanding. At times their energy is like adding a seventh player on the court.”

ONE OF A KIND: Delano’s team chemistry and talent have them eyeing state title run

DELANO – Age is just a number when it comes to the Delano volleyball team. They proved that this season.
With a unique group of players from different ages, the Tigers took last year’s disappointment and turned that into motivation this season and it resulted in their first section championship in a decade.

“I think with how close we got last year was a huge motivational factor to them working hard in the offseason and all season long,” Delano coach Becca Rue said. “They come to each practice and really want to get better.”

The Tigers felt the disappointment a season ago coming so close to breaking through. A 3-2 loss to rival Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the section championship fueled the fire from the start of this season.
“It definitely put a fire into this bunch,” Rue said. “They wanted to get there again and they didn’t want it to end like it did last year.”

“Losing last year was heartbreaking for us especially with it being in five and against Benilde-St. Margaret’s,” sophomore Kaelyn Wittwer said. “Making it to the section finals last year was super cool but to get back there again and finally win it was super cool.”

Breaking through this season was no easy task for the Tigers. Competing in one of the toughest sections in the state regardless of class, Delano had to navigate its way through a section with four of the top 10 ranked teams in their way. The Tigers swept their first two matches including a win over No. 6 Holy Angels. In the section championship, Delano rallied from an 0-2 hole to stun No. 3-ranked Northfield to claim the section title.

“Honestly, I still can’t believe that it happened,” senior Grace Danielson said. “Last year it was a heartbreaker but we made it that far. This year we used that to feed our hunger that we wanted to make it there. We knew going into the season we were going to be a good team but we had no idea how good we could be. We wanted to come back from last year and as the season went on we realized that this is a special group that can go a long way.”

“I think it looks really cool to have to go through our section like we did,” Wittwer added. “It really helps us to see that good competition before state. The amount of good teams we have in that section makes everyone work so hard and wants it so bad so it’s just really rewarding to be able to make it out of there.”

One quick look at the roster for the Tigers and you’ll notice a big age gap between players. With just five seniors on the rosters, Delano has had their underclassmen, a majority of them sophomores, step up in big ways all season long in key spots.

“Once you get to varsity, you have to forget about your grade,” Rue said. “You’re here because you deserve to be here. The seniors have done awesome work for the sophomores. The sophomores really want to make the seniors proud. They both know that they need each other.”

“We all get along so well,” Wittwer said. “It doesn’t even feel like there is a two-year age gap. We’re all really good friends and the dynamic between us is really good.”

The chemistry on the team is no secret that has been the key to their success this season. With a group that plays for each other, the sky has been the limit this season as they are poised for one of the best seasons in program history.

“We’re a close-knit family,” Danielson said. “No one really looks at each other and sees a different age. There’s always a sophomore and a senior talking to each other. Everyone is just so connected.”

“We all had a goal at the start of the season to go to state,” Wittwer added. “Now that we actually did it, it’s kind of surreal but we all wanted it so badly and believed in ourselves so much that it’s not surprising.”

While chemistry certainly has been a big part of the success of the Tigers this season, so is their skill. Delano features athletes who can make plays all over the floor making it tough for opponents to figure them out.

“We’re such a well-balanced attack that other teams don’t necessarily know who to key in on from set to set,” Rue said. “They are unselfish and huge supporters of each other which is why they are being so successful.”
Delano comes into the Class AAA state tournament battle-tested. The Tigers knocked off two ranked teams just to get to the state and are now looking to make some noise on the state’s biggest stage.

“It makes it that much more enjoyable,” Rue said about being a state title contender. “We knew with how tough our section was that whoever comes out of it deserves to be there. It’s going to be more than just getting there now. We have the goal and got a good shot of making that state championship match and hopefully surprise some people.”

“With it being my last season, it’s just nice to keep playing and not be done,” Tool added. “I don’t think it’s really hit me that we’re actually going to play at state but I’m excited for it. We all definitely think we have a shot. It makes it really exciting. We know we have a good chance if we play our game.”

Delano has lost just two matches this season coming into the state tournament and they’ve come against the top two seeds in Class AAAA in Wayzata and New Prague. After coming out on top in Section 6AAA, the Tigers are excited to see what they can do on the state’s biggest stage and make some more memories together.

“Obviously I wanted to make it last year but going into my senior year I couldn’t have asked for a better team or situation to close out my career,” Danielson said. “When you’re playing in sections you never know when your last practice is. Now that we are in state we know today is our last practice and these are our last games. It’s our last chance to make memories together.”

“With this group, when they’re relaxed and having fun, they play even better,” Rue added. “We just want to stay loose and enjoy every moment that we can and hopefully play some really good volleyball.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter/X all week long for in-game updates and coverage on the Delano volleyball team at the Class AAA state tournament.