Best player absent due to injury, but Eagan still wins
Take the state’s top consensus player out of Eagan’s roster and the Wildcats are… still pretty tough to beat.
The Wildcats, ranked third in Class 3A, came back from one set behind to defeat sixth-place Lakeville South, 25-12, 23-25, 22-25, 25-11, 15-8 on Monday night.
It was a familiar mix of balanced attack and tenacious defense for Eagan. But notable for his presence on the bench – rather than the field – was senior passer / outside hitter Kennedi Orr, two-time Minnesota Gatorade player of the year. Orr, wearing a brace on his left leg and using crutches to get around, is not expected to play this fall due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
By encouraging players and offering advice during downtime, Orr is actually a new addition to Coach Eagan Kathy Gillen’s assistant roster. “I think I like her better as a player,” Gillen said with a laugh.
Even though she can’t play, Orr said she was still eager to contribute. “I think they showed a lot of heart coming back to win the last two games,” she said. “It’s a good sign for the rest of the season.
Eagan has won four of his first five games, including a three-set victory over Eastview on Wednesday. The only loss came to Shakopee, ranked No.2 in Class 3A and the catch-up team in the Southern Suburbs conference. Shakopee and Eagan are tied for first in the conference at 4-1.
Eagan also holds victories over Prior Lake and Lakeville North, ranked No.4.
While playing without Orr is a tough adjustment, it’s something Eagan’s teams have faced before. Last year, she missed eight games for Eagan while playing for the US gold medalist team at the World Under-18 Tournament, and the Wildcats won all eight.
The problem, Gillen said, is that there isn’t another player on Eagan’s roster who can replace all of Orr’s tuning, attacking and defense skills. It takes several players to do it.
A number of Wildcats players have new roles, but the player most affected is likely junior Emma Berran, who succeeds the passer. Berran was assigned to the outside hitter, but according to Gillen’s tally, she has had three role changes in the past two months.
“Emma was going to prepare us if we were to play in the spring,” said Gillen, referring to a Minnesota State High School League vote in August to move the volleyball season to spring 2021 due to COVID-19. This decision was overturned last month. If there had been a spring volleyball season, Orr would not have been available as she would have to graduate early and enroll at the University of Nebraska in January.
“When the season was pushed back to fall Emma was going to be outside, but now she’s sitting down again. She did a great job of adjusting, like all of our players, ”said Gillen.
Senior captain and center tackle Abby Moe, junior outside hitter Sienna Ifill, junior center tackle Kendal Kemp and junior libero Simara Amador are veterans of Eagan’s 2019 Class 3A finalist squad. The Wildcats have won. their first 31 games before losing to Wayzata in five sets (and a fifth set 16-14) in the national final.
Seniors Kaela Glaser, Maya Jones and Delaney Foerster, juniors Lauren Clark and Maren Sundberg, sophomore Kaitlyn Sellner and ninth grade Ava Bertsch are also looking to contribute this season.
After beating Eastview, the Wildcats had nine regular season games to play. Eagan’s next game is at Farmington at 7 p.m. Monday. All regular-season games are against opponents from the South Suburban Conference, and the Wildcats get another shot at Shakopee at home on November 4.
Lakeville South’s roster includes senior outside forward Ava Moes, who signed up for the University of Tennessee, and passer Teagan Starkey, who will play for the National Power Division II Concordia-St. Paul, where his father Brady is the head coach.
Lakeville South defeated Shakopee 25-21, 25-22, 29-27 on Wednesday, handing the Sabers their first loss and moving less than a game from first place to 3-2.
In Monday’s game, the shorthanded Wildcats appeared to lose all key points in games two and three. But they found other equipment in the last two, overtaking South 40-19. For Gillen, it was proof of her team’s ability to play – and how far they need to go to reach their potential.
“We’re getting along well,” said Gillen, who has led Eagan to the Class 3A Championship game for the past seven years. “If we play like this in a month, then we’ll be in trouble. But it’s OK. We have time to improve. If we didn’t have the opportunity to improve, I wouldn’t have a job.