ST. PAUL – It was simply meant to be for the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team. After a magical season last year led them to their first state title since 1982, the Crusaders dominated their competition throughout the season to repeat as Class A champions with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-13) victory over Minneota in the Class A title game Saturday afternoon.
“We had one goal in mind,” senior libero Mya Chmielewski said. “We knew what we had to do to make it here. It’s the chemistry that matters. You need to have that good chemistry with everyone to go places.”
The Crusaders dominated every facet of the game on their way to winning the title as their seniors capped off their careers with their second-straight title.
“I knew a long time ago,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said about when she knew this group was special. “But you don’t ever expect to be back and keep doing it. You want to, and you push to get there, but it takes a lot of special kids. It takes a lot of special time. It was harder this year than last year to get back here and do what we just did. I’ve known that they’ve been special, probably since when Sophie was 10. Then the others just come along, and it’s been a great journey for four years with them.”
The journey this season has been extra special for senior Madi Beck. After winning her first state title last season, Beck had her father, Jason along as an assistant coach for the ride this season.
“It was so fun,” Beck said about having her dad around this season. “I had him when I was younger. Then at beginning of high school I didn’t have him, so it was kind of weird. It was just awesome. He helped us so much in practice with our front row and our defense and stuff. It was just amazing.”
The Crusaders once again used a balanced attack offensively in the victory. With so many weapons at their disposal, the Vikings of Minneota had a tough time keeping up the powerful Crusaders. Mayer Lutheran had just seven attack errors in the match, while Beck finished with a game-high 17 kills. Maddy Hucky added 10 kills, while Sophia Heuer finished with 13 kills. It was the the second-straight match that Hucky, Beck, and Heuer all were in double-digit kills for the Crusaders.
“We always work together well,” Beck said. “It makes it so much easier to just win games when we all work together.”
Even though it was Beck, Heuer, and Hucky leading the way offensively for their team, they know how important of a role Chmielewski plays. Without her, there would no impressive kill numbers or any awards.
“We are very, very thankful for Mya in the back row,” Hucky said. “You can always trust her to have a good game. She never lets us down.”
“I know as a hitter, I can’t get any of my kills or awards or anything if I don’t have Mya back there digging it up,” Beck added.
Chmielewski, one of nine seniors on the roster, has done it all season for the Crusaders. With her exceptional performances all season long, she was named to the Class A All-State team this season.
“She works hard everyday,” Grimsley said. “She knows her role. I think she gets a little frustrated when one ball gets by her. She gets mad. It’s like, Mya, it’s ok to have one miss. When she doesn’t get one pass up, she’s frustrated, but comes right back. I think our setters were extremely blessed. It’s very unusual to have someone back there like that where she just out-hustles (everyone). She’s not going to let that ball drop. I’m so proud that she got All-State this year because we all were just praying she did. A lot of times like you said, she doesn’t get to see the glory. To be back there and just pumping up the ball to our setters is amazing. She’s got the biggest heart too. I can’t look at her now or else I’ll start crying.”
For a team to win back-to-back state championships, a lot has to go right. Those nine seniors not only brought leadership and experienced, they also showed how great a team can be when they truly love playing together.
“They’re all special in their own way,” Grimsley said when asked if this was the best team she’s coached. “These guys hold a big place in my heart. We’ve talked about how much I’m going to miss them just being on the court. I can definitely say that they are one of the best teams that I’ve had chemistry with out of my groups and the love that they had for each other. It’s been fun. It’s been a great journey for me as a coach. I don’t know how many coaches can say that. You win a state title and that’s amazing. I will definitely miss these guys. These four (Hucky, Chmielewski, Beck, and Heuer) seniors are leaders, captains, and they held it together for me all season. I didn’t have to do much.”
The team chemistry was so important to their run of back-to-back state titles that Grimsley thought about doing something she rarely does. With the lead well in-hand in the third set, Grimsley thought about calling a timeout to share a message with them that they surely already knew.
“I almost did when the score was 23-13,” Grimsley said. “I almost called one because I was bawling on the sidelines already. I saw it. I got a little vision of, oh my gosh, it’s two points. I have these kids for two more points. I thought, I’m going to call a timeout and just tell them I love them, and I’m proud of you guys.”
Grimsley opted not to call a timeout, letting her team finish it off on their own as she’s done all season.
Seniors Hucky, Beck, Heuer, Chmielewski, Nicole Klaustermeier, Lauren Wandersee, Martina Saulsbury, Haley Rowher, and Mallory Kuntz may have played their final game for Mayer Lutheran, but there’s no doubt this team will be remembered.
“Our fire and passion for the game,” Heuer said about how she wants this team to be remembered. “A lot of us have been playing since we were in fourth grade. We wanted this all our lives.”