ST. PAUL – All season long, Mayer Lutheran volleyball coach Joelle Grimsley has been preaching one game at a time. She didn’t listen to her own message.
At the beginning of the season, Grimsley knew what her team was capable of. She knew what lied ahead and prepared her team for it and it paid off on the state’s biggest stage. Mayer Lutheran captured their fourth state title in program history with a convincing 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-18 ) sweep of No. 2 ranked Minneota in the Class A championship match Saturday.
“At the beginning of the year we played Minneota the first match,” Grimsley said. “All of us coaches said this is what it’s going to come down to. Our last match of the season will be Minneota versus Mayer Lutheran. You have to plan for that. You have to practice for that. We knew this was coming. We peaked at the right time. This was, by far, the best game we’ve played all season.”
The planning and practice for the Crusaders paid off. From the opening serve, Mayer Lutheran had the Vikings on their back heels all day long. With four All-State players leading the charge along with Stella Maass and Brooke Sauter stepping up, the Crusaders couldn’t be touched.
“It takes more than one,” Grimsley said. “It takes more than two. We talked about it taking 14. Before we left the locker room we talked about 14. I think when a team plays defense like our girls did today, that is so frustrating to play against. We had some incredible digs. Our libero has played the best she has ever played. For her to step up and do what she did today and never be a libero before was awesome. We kept the ball alive and just played smart. We knew if we did that, there would be frustration on the other side of the net. I think we frustrated Minneota to the point where they were in a panic mode and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”
“That was our goal the whole time,” Emma Lade added. “Just try and get them out of system and do whatever we can. That just showed how good of a team we are. It showed how our hitting and defense affects other teams.”
A dominant 25-15 win in the opening frame set the tone for the Crusaders. They kept things rolling in sets two and three as the Vikings had no answer for their relentless attack at the net.
In set three, Minneota was looking to hold off elimination, but Stella Maas had other plans. A 9-0 run sparked by Maass put the Vikings in another big hole they were unable to climb out of as Mayer Lutheran took control of the match once again.
“Our setters were able to keep the ball moving,” Gabby Wachholz said. “Minneota was kind of caught off guard by that. You would think it would go to Lilly, but Stella came through and found the court.”
“Stella was like a blocking machine,” Grimsley added. “We were all wondering where did that come from. During one timeout I told Stella to get her, and then she went out and did it. It was awesome.”
Having already beaten Minneota twice during the regular season, Mayer Lutheran was not ready to overlook them in this matchup.
“I think we focused on how the past does not define the future,” Gabby Wachholz said. “They’re a new team. We’re a new team. They’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better. We came out stronger and had a more intent purpose and we found a way to win.”
“The past is the past,” Grimsley added. “It’s really difficult to beat someone in three. We had a game plan and one of the best things about this team, and there’s a lot of them, but they trust us coaches. We told them our game plan and we worked hard to put it together and they went out and did it. Our coaching staff is just so grateful that we have kids that listen and then take action.”
Mayer Lutheran was the No. 1 ranked team in Class A throughout the entire season. While the top-ranking was nice, finishing it off with a state championship brought out the emotions as they reached their ultimate goal.
“It’s just so surreal that we’re here and won,” Maass said. “We’ve been working for this all season and we finally did it.”
“It’s the best feeling,” Lilly Wachholz added. “Ending my senior year like this, I couldn’t have asked for anything else. It’s amazing.”
The Crusaders had five seniors who got out on top with a state title. They’ve done more than bring the school their fourth state title in volleyball. They’ve led by example throughout their careers.
“I’ll miss these seniors a ton,” Grimsley said. “These guys have played with me for four years. They’re going off and they’ll play somewhere else but they will have this memory for the rest of their life. That as a coach is what I want to give them.”
The state title for the Crusaders is their fourth in program history and the third for Grimsley in her storied coaching career. While many great teams and players have come through the program, this team showed Grimsley something she’s never seen before.
“The joy that they felt at the end was something I’ve never seen,” Grimsley said. “Seeing the joy on those faces and the tears coming out, they couldn’t even stop it. The team chemistry with this group at the beginning was not where it needed to be. You can have a really skilled team not win it. They have the skill and they came together. The seniors led that and all these kids felt it and saw it. Their chemistry and their joy were like no other team.”
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports