There is a common axiom in sports that it is difficult to beat the same team twice in one season. Whether it’s true or not, the New Life Academy Eagles volleyball team had no problem on Thursday night, Oct. 31, as they swept Legacy Christian 3-0 for their second win over the Lions this season. The Eagles -- who are the No. 2 seed in Section 4A -- took the first two sets over No. 3 Legacy Christian 25-14 and 25-19 before an intense third set that ended 34-32 for a New Life Academy victory.
With the win, the Eagles advance to the Section 4A finals on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Bloomington Kennedy High School where they will take on top-seeded Mounds Park Academy.
Earlier in the regular season, New Life Academy beat Legacy Christian 3-1 and head coach Wally Bomgren said the two teams are definitely familiar with each other.
“I would say we definitely know them really well, we were in their conference for a long time. They’re very well coached by a guy who’s had them in the state tournament in years past, he knows what he’s doing,” Bomgren said. “What they’re always really good at, if you make one little error they jump all over it. They get fired up and they’re very good at trying to get the momentum back. We knew that push back was coming from them and we just had to fight it off.”
It looked like the Eagles would cruise to victory after the first two sets, but Legacy Christian gave New Life Academy all they could handle in the third set. New Life scored the first point of the third set and then trailed all the way until they took a 20-19 lead. Eventually the set was tied 24-24 and the two teams alternated the next 18 points until the Eagles won 34-32.
“We’re just taking it point-by-point, we’re looking at each other with confidence in each other because we know we’re going to come out on top,” said senior Elli Wiertsema about that final set. “We’re gonna work every point, just look forward to the next one (point) and not worry about the last one that just happened.”
Bomgren said his staff emphasized calm during timeouts over that tense stretch as they Eagles attempted to close out the match.
“When there were a couple of timeouts, we mainly told them that they had to settle down a little bit,” he said. “Both teams were very intense, were hustling but both teams were making too many errors. We missed a lot of serves in that game, at one point four players in a row missed serves. As young as they are they got a little worked up and they clearly needed to settle down.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 29, New Life Academy beat No. 10 St. Paul Humboldt/Open World Learning in three straight sets 25-6, 25-7, 25-11. It was their first match in two weeks after they earned a double-bye in sections. Both Wiertsema and Bomgren said the long break was unusual for this time of year.
“It was pretty hard having the week off or so, just practice, but we were really looking forward to the section run because we know how fun that is,” Wiertsema said.
“We had an amazing amount of time off, it was two full weeks, I’ve coached high school for quite a while and I’ve never had two weeks off like that, especially at the end of the year,” Bomgren said. “The good thing was we ended so well, we played Edina in non-conference in our last match, played them really tough and beat them in three straight (sets) and honestly played the best volleyball of the whole year. Our errors were way down, which is what we’re looking for. We just played really well, so we had that to feed off of for these two weeks.”
New Life will face off with Mounds Park Academy on Saturday to decide who moves on to the state tournament. The Eagles have made the state tournament the past two years and are looking to make it three straight. The two teams did not play each other this season but New Life did beat Mounds Park in the section semifinals last fall in three sets.
Despite having several returners from last year’s state tournament team, this year’s is very different for a variety of reasons.
“I think that this year we are a lot more energy-based and we always have a positive attitude no matter where we are,” Wiertsema said. “With the joy of the Lord we are able to overcome.”
Bomgren mentioned several players who have really made an impact this season.
“This team has just got really good ball-handling in the back row and we have a sophomore setter (Kaitlyn Groeneweg) who has stepped up. Had never played varsity before but she’s delivering the ball really, really well. I’m not saying it’s better than last year, but it’s certainly consistent and our hitters really like the sets she puts up there,” he said. “Our two middles (senior Abbie Swenson and sophomore Addy Welch) are coming along really, really well. They scored a lot of points for us tonight. We had two middles leave us in the past year, the two middles are newer, our sophomore middle (Welch) tonight had a great night, I’m sure she had seven or eight kills.”
Should New Life Academy win Saturday, they would next play in the state tournament Thursday, Nov. 7., through Saturday, Nov. 9., at the Xcel Energy Center. Last year the Eagles lost in the first round of state to Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Mayer-Lutheran in the consolation bracket. In the 2017 state tournament, they lost to Minneota before beating Pine River-Backus and Cook County for the consolation championship.