Recently named number one in the state, the Cougars had never been in the position they were in Tuesday night. A share of the conference title on the line, section positioning and not to mention, defending their first ever week as the top team in class 3A.
In fact, the Cougars had never even sniffed the top of the South Suburban conference in their existence until last night. Dating back even to their short time as a member of the Lake Conference.
It would’ve been easy to say that their emotions would just get the better of them, but that simply wasn’t acceptable to head Coach Jenn Nelson. Lakeville South took Eagan to five games, on the road, in a full gymnasium and came out victorious.
The Cougars had to deal with one of their key offensive weapons, Monica Turner, feeling under the weather for the bulk of the match. She seemed able to brush it aside.
“She was feeling light headed from about game 3 on,” says Coach Nelson, “Every time she went into the game (though) she went in there with ferocity and determination.”
That’s the kind of mentality that builds championship teams and that’s what the Cougars have this year, if only for this year. Coach Nelson is well aware of the fact that out of the 10 players on their roster, 8 of them are Seniors. It’s not quite now or never, it’s more like now…or wait a few years.
As for Tuesday night’s game, it had all the makings of a championship match. In the face of adversity and heading into a potentially decisive game 4 behind, Lakeville South stepped up and fought for every point. The girls celebrated every point, as well.
“These girls love each other and it’s evident,” explains Coach Nelson, “Their enthusiasm can win us games. Their adrenaline and their cheering helped us through that fifth game.”
It’s been there all season and more than likely will even get stronger into the post-season.
That’s not to say everything went perfect Tuesday night for the Cougars. They came out sluggish in game one against a strong Wildcats team. On the road, against a strong competition such as Eagan, stumbling out of the gate could put you behind in the match before it even starts. They dropped game one 25-20. 25-18, 25-18, 15-12
However, the Cougars came back out in dominating fashion in game two. Everything seemed to go right as they evened things back up with a 25-11 win.
Game three went back and forth until Eagan gained some separation late. Each side matching point for point, but it was the Wildcats that came out on top 25-18.
With their backs up against the wall, not wanting a let down at this point in the season, the Cougars turned up the pressure once again. Forcing their game onto the Wildcat defense almost say “we dare you to stop us.”
When the Wildcats would put up the block on either Turner or McKell Anderson the Cougars would keep the point alive and go right back to the kill. Anderson admits it was a team effort.
“After we started playing and started feeling good about the game we just kind of started flowing together and played really well as a team.”
The Cougars finished game four 25-18 with the momentum on their side heading into the final game.
Coach Nelson says the season is all about having fun. Despite a win or loss, however admittedly winning is more fun, it’s all about enjoying your time on the court.
In a word, game five was “fun”.
Every point that the Cougars won warranted an uproar of celebration from the Lakeville South bench and their fans. To say it was a playoff atmosphere in the gymnasium would be understating it.
Even the Lakeville North volleyball team, who was in attendance, moved to the South side of the gym to join in the celebration.
South looked to have the upper hand early on, jumping out to a five-one lead. But, with a sense of poetic justice, Eagan fought back to level things. Back and forth things went, until Anderson took it upon herself to earn her Cougars their first conference title. It came with a 15-12 final in game five and the entire Cougar team jumping up and down on the Wildcats gym floor. Once again, led by McKell Anderson.
“We knew we could do well, but we wanted to prove it to ourselves and to each other that we could do well as a team.”
A teary eyed Jenn Nelson talked to media and friends after the match, knowing that the job isn’t done. But for one night her Cougars were on top and no one was going to stop them from celebrating.
The only issue at hand being that, somehow, the girls were going to try to have to make it through a full day of classes in less than 12 hours.