Cowgirls finish 'surreal' state tournament run

Victoria Undem (left) and Ana Erickson (right) didn't back down from one of the very best teams in Minnesota, No. 3-ranked Legacy Christian Academy, during a 3-1 loss in the Class 1A State Volleyball Consolation Championship.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Breckenridge closed the book on its 30-4 volleyball season Saturday, Nov. 13 at the Xcel Energy Center. The Cowgirls were unable to maintain momentum following a first-set win, falling to No. 3-ranked Legacy Christian Academy in four sets during the Class 1A Consolation Championship. The outstate Cowgirls didn’t bow down to the Lions, taking several early leads before LCA adjusted and pulled away in the final three sets. Set scores were 26-24, 19-25, 21-25 and 21-25.

The Section 6A Champion Cowgirls end their record-setting season as the sixth-best team of 158 in Class 1A. Coach Margaret Wilson’s group is the first team to play in the consolation title round since the Breckenridge boys basketball team lost to Esko at the state tournament in 2018. The Cowgirls’ second-round beatdown of South Ridge and the overall aura of competing at the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild is something to be cherished forever.

“It was kind of like small town meets the real world, so to speak. It was just surreal for our players,” Wilson said. “I’ve attended state tournaments and been an assistant coach in one, but never the Minnesota tournament. To experience that shock, awe and wow factor with these girls … It was really cool.”

Breckenridge woke up ready to play Saturday, pouncing on the Lions for an 11-5 lead, punctuated by a big block and a kill from Victoria Undem. The No. 5-seeded Cowgirls traded scoring runs with LCA to a 15-15 tie, before Abby Johnson stepped up with a kill for a 19-17 Cowgirls advantage.

The Lions recovered to take a 24-21 lead. Like they’ve done many times in 2021, Breckenridge answered the challenge and hit back for a 25-24 lead on a Lauren Beyer block, clinching the set one point later on a net violation by LCA.

Beyer was excellent out of the chute, providing a presence in the middle on offense and defense. Her confident swings caught the Lions cheating to the outside and keyed a solid comeback effort.

“Throughout the season Lauren’s swing really improved. It was nice to see her swinging strong until the end, especially the last match,” Wilson said. “All year long she’s done a great job of what we ask — get your hands over the net, shut some hitters down. Midway through the season we set the ball more to our middles. In the section playoffs we lost that a bit, but it was our focus at the state tourney.”

Breckenridge handled the Lions’ heavy-handed attack in the opening set with some beautiful blocks.

“We blocked well in the first set, which caught them by surprise. Our second set started strong at 4-0 and we had that mentality that we could do this,” Wilson said. “Legacy fixed their errors, found a way around our block and found some open holes tipping the volleyball. It was a little frustrating giving up early leads in the last three sets. We’d get to about 10-10 and we’d lose it.”

Johnson, a junior outside hitter, has grown into one of the best attackers in the section. She contributed 11 kills in the loss to Legacy, but also had 11 errors. The 2021 Heart O’ Lakes all-conference selection is just a few steps away from tightening up her game and becoming one of the premier threats in all of Class 1A.

“We need her to be a little more confident hitter and eliminate some of those errors. That’s the type of thing she can improve on, just the mental part of her game,” Wilson said. “Serve receive-wise, we only had three serve receivers the last three seasons. Going into next year Abby is going to have to lead that. She’s a very good defensive player so she’s able to read the ball pretty well.”

Despite saying farewell to eight seniors, the cupboard isn’t bare for Breckenridge volleyball. The freshmen Cowgirls recently completed an undefeated regular season.

“We have a good freshman class coming in, so we can, in other words, begin to rebuild a little bit,” Wilson said. “It may be a little difficult right away for Addie Twidwell and Abby to adjust to bigger roles after such a good season surrounded by these players, but for our other varsity players that didn’t see the court as much, they now have something to strive for after being a part of this amazing run.”

Kaehler tallied 32 kills across the final two matches of the tournament. Carcie Materi and Sophie Larson combined for 38 assists in their final high school game and senior libero Riley Finkral led the Cowgirls with 33 digs.

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