Esko claims state consolation runner-up in memorable yearDespite graduating half a dozen players from her state tournament team a year ago, Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon was convinced her volleyball team didn’t lose a step when practice started in August. Come mid-November, she was spot-on.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ST. PAUL – Despite graduating half a dozen players from her state tournament team a year ago, Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon was convinced her volleyball team didn’t lose a step when practice started in August.
Come mid-November, she was spot-on.
The Eskomos finished as the Class AA consolation runners-up in last weekend’s state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, as their 3-0 loss to Sauk Centre Saturday closed off a memorable year.
“Graduating six people the perception was that we weren’t going to be as good this year, but I never questioned that at all,” DeLeon said of her team returning almost as many experienced players as they lost. “It says a lot for these girls to play on the last day [of the season]. It was a successful year.”
Esko piled up 27 wins this season, while their 3-2 consolation win over Visitation last Friday evening avenged a winless appearance at state a year ago.
It was just Esko’s second-ever state win and first since 2004.
“They were excited,” recalled DeLeon about her girls after the 25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 20-25, 15-9 weekend-highlighting win. “We didn’t want to go down there and lose-lose again. It was definitely a good, fun win for us.”
Middle hitters Stephanie Bandelin and Amanda Belden took over against The Blazer last week, as the senior Bandelin had 27 kills, while the junior Belden added 20. Senior setter Stephanie Miller also had 51 set assists.
“We got our offense going and showed everyone what Esko volleyball is all about,” recalled Miller. “We kept our energy and we stayed up all match.”
“We played as a team,” added Belden, “and we fought until the end.”
Sandwiching Esko’s lone win was an opening-round 3-0 loss to top-ranked and eventual-champion Marshall last Thursday, as well a consolation championship defeat against the 30-win Mainstreeters of Sauk Center Saturday.
“After our first loss, I told the girls that the consolation trophy isn’t much smaller than the championship one,” said DeLeon, whose team finished 27-6.
“We wanted to win the consolation at least,” added Belden, “but we struggled a little bit in that last game.”
Yet, Bandelin didn’t oversee what they had already
“I went online and looked at the rankings at the beginning of the year and didn’t see us,” said Bandelin, who will play collegiately at St. Cloud State next fall. “We weren’t expected to get to state, and win a game, but we did. I think we definitely proved a lot of people wrong.”
DeLeon, who has made five trips to state, including three with Cook in addition to her pair at Esko, said last weekend’s environment never gets old.
“That never changes, it’s always fun,” she said. “The completion is good. You’re in the top-eight schools in the state, playing against schools that have very good volleyball teams, but it is fun to do that.”
Miller, a reserve last year who set full-time this year, quickly agreed with her coach.
“I wish we could have played better,” she said, “but the environment is so fun to play in. It’s a little nerve-racking
because there are a lot of fans and it is loud, but it gets you going. We came home with a win, but really, had fun and made a lot of memories together.”
“I’ll never forget it,” added Bandelin about her time as an Eskomo, which over the past two seasons featured back-to-back unbeaten Polar League titles, two section championships, a pair of state entrances and a 55-9 record. “Finding this success in college will definitely be harder.”
Bandelin, Miller, Delaney Pearson, Megan Bergstedt, Amanda Bisel and Megan Reuer will graduate, but Belden will return to Esko next fall to a program that will, again, have some big shoes to fill.
“We’ll be young, and it’ll be hard, but I think we’ll be pretty decent,” Belden said. “Hopefully we can play somewhat as well as teams here in the past.”
“We’ll be less experienced, but will have a lot of talent back,” DeLeon added. “But no one can count us out.”