Down, but not out.
That’s what the Pequot Lake Patriots volleyball team faced Saturday, Nov. 2, as they were down 0-2 to the Park Rapids Panthers in the Section 8-2A final.
For Patriots head coach Chris Ganley, she knew it was possible considering it had just happened to Southwest Christian — a team they had played in their summer tournament.
“We had just talked about the team that did it to Southwest,” Ganley said of Belle Plaine, who came back from 0-2 to beat Southwest Christian. “We have a ton of respect for that program. And we said if Belle Plaine can do it them, we can do it here.”
The confidence Ganley gave off reenergized the Patriots as they rattled off three straight set wins to punch their ticket to the state tournament for the first time since 1994.
“The games we lost were not blowouts,” Ganley said of the first two sets. “So the girls knew they were in and knew they were close and just had to play a little bit better if they were to get over the top.
“I think they realized they could beat Park Rapids and needed those close games early to realize it and that was very nice.”
When the Patriots completed their comeback, Ganley felt it took her team awhile to really grasp what they had done.
“I jumped up and down and I never do that because I’m too old,” Ganley said of the on-court celebration. “I was so excited for them because they did it. And they wanted to do it and in previous years had been close to doing it that when they finally did do it they were kind of in awe.”
Juniors Kate Bolz-Andolshek and Lydia Hubbard led the charge on offense for the Patriots, but just like in the North Subsection 8-2A Final it was the defense for Pequot Lakes that stood out. “The three digateers” as Ganley calls them — Mirjana Ganley, Mariah Rickard and Elle Pfeiffer — all registered double digits digs against Park Rapids.
“I’m thrilled for them that they are getting recognition,” Ganley said. “They do a ton of work back there and if they don’t get that ball to our setters in a way that we can feed Lydia and Kate those great plays don’t happen. They are so connected with each other, and they support each other so well back there.”
Pequot Lakes making it to state volleyball completes the sweep for girls fall sports as the tennis and cross-country teams both make it to state, too.
Ganley realized this Pequot Lakes team could be special in the summer. They would play in summer tournaments and not have their whole roster and beat good teams.
“It kind of started developing like that in the offseason,” she said. “Once we got into the season you are going to have your ups and downs but you have to improve.”
Pequot Lakes will enter the state tournament with a 27-5 record, but the losses sometimes proved to be more beneficial than the wins. Ganley brought up a five-game road loss to Brainerd and as one of those moments that helped them improve.
“We don’t get to see hitters like Avery Eckman very often,” Ganley said. “So to have her hit at us, even though we ended up with a loss, it was good for us.”
The Patriots drew North Branch — seeded No. 3 for the tournament — in the state quarterfinals. Ganley knows since it is a state tournament all the teams they will matchup with will be good including this first one.
“North Branch has an outside hitter that is known all over the state,” she said of the opponent. “So we will have to work, but I think it’s fun because the girls are excited to play her and her teammates and see what they can do.”
The balance of wanting to win and enjoying the moment can be hard for a team that has not made a state tournament for 25 years. Ganley is confident through warnings of other area coaches she knows that they will make sure to not take their trip to state for granted.
“That’s our challenge as coaches,” Ganley said. “To get them prepared to play, but also let them enjoy it. You know, I’ve gotten many congratulations from area coaches and they definitely told me ‘make sure you enjoy it’ because it's very special.”
Class 2A State tournament
Matchup: Pequot Lakes (27-5) vs. No. 3 North Branch (27-4)
Time: 7 p.m.
When: Thursday, Nov. 7
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul