By Matt Kane
DELANO — It didn’t take a Halloween-candy sugar rush to get the home crowd energized Tuesday night at the Tiger Activity Center, where Delano hosted Totino-Grace in the Section 5AA quarterfinals. The play on the court from the hometown Tigers offered a natural, adrenaline-induced high, as Delano claimed the match and a seat in the section title game with a 3-0 win over the visiting Eagles.
“They are playing the best volleyball at the right time. I can’t really ask for much more. Everyone had a really good match tonight,” said Delano coach Becca Rue of her Tigers. “I’m very proud of their showing tonight. Totino is a nice team.”
The win puts Delano, the No. 2 seed, in the championship match against town rival Watertown-Mayer, the top seed in the playoffs. The two towns sit about nine miles from each other, but fans will have to travel to Richfield to the Academy of Holy Angels to see the battle between the Tigers and Royals. The opening serve is at 7 p.m.
Delano is looking for its eighth state-tournament appearance and sixth in Rue’s 11 seasons as coach.
“We’ve been working really hard in practice and staying at it, and putting in the extra because we want to go to state, and we can this year, so that is exciting,” said Delano junior setter Brynn Heinonen.
Watertown-Mayer (21-7) defeated Delano (17-13) in a regular-season meeting Sept. 11 in four sets — 25-18, 25-19, 20-25, 25-16.
To get back at the Royals in the playoffs, Delano will have to play like it did against Totino-Grace, according to Heinonen.
“We need to come out with our energy and our fight,” said Heinonen, who had 29 assists in the win over Totino-Grace. “Tonight, we came out with it and that’s what got us this game tonight.”
In the other section semifinal match Tuesday night, Watertown-Mayer defeated No. 4 Mound-Westonka in three sets — 25-18, 25-22, 25-16.
The toughest set of the night in Delano’s match against Totino-Grace was the third.
Not wanting to give the Eagles any hope by allowing a fourth set, the Tigers put it and the match away with consecutive points out of a timeout called by Delano coach Becca Rue. Delano won the third set 25-23.
Rue called the timeout after Totino-Grace cut what was once a 23-19 Tiger lead down to one point, 23-22.
“She was saying, ‘All you can do is give it your all, and, whatever happens, we are going to win this game. So, step back out there, and let’s go,’” said Heinonen of Rue’s message during that timeout.
The second set was a battle through the midway point, when Totino-Grace cut the lead down to three points, 19-16, but Delano closed the door at 25-18.
The first set was all Tigers, 25-13.
What looked to be one of the best efforts of the season for the Tigers came with the team being short-handed for much of the night after middle hitter Olivia Motley left the gym. How her players responded to Motley’s absence showed Rue a lot about her team.
“Olivia went out because she wasn’t feeling well, so we had to adjust on the fly. Megan (Burgstaler) went into the middle, where she hasn’t played in awhile. In practice, we have her take reps there just in case this happens. And Makenna (Sabourin) came in and did an awesome job on the right side,” Rue explained of shuffling the lineup. “You couldn’t really tell that we had much change, and that goes out to the girls working hard in practice, and knowing their roles, and being ready to step in for each other.”
Burgstaler finished with 11 kills in 16 attempts. Grace Popp led the Delano attack with 13 kills.
On defense, Mya Johnson led the Tigers with 17 digs. Heinonen had 14 digs.
Fans who have watched Delano all season have probably noticed some growth from the girls on the team. The girls, themselves, have seen it.
“All these girls came together this year,” said Heinonen. “Not everybody had played together, but we stepped in and we are a team, and now we are a family.”