WEM team celebration

The Waterville-Elysian-Morristown volleyball team, pictured earlier this season, ended its season with a victory against previously undefeated Minneota. The victory against the Vikings, the two-time defending Class A state champs, vaulted the Buccaneers into the No. 1 spot in the final Class A state rankings. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

It may not be the state tournament, but for Waterville-Elysian-Morristown volleyball team it was the best ending to an abbreviated season.

W-E-M ended its season Friday, Nov. 20, with its best victory yet — a 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 25-15) victory against previously Class A No. 1 Minneota.

In a rematch of last year's Class A state final, W-E-M may have won “just” a regular season match, but it was much more than that. Ranked No. 1 and 2 all season, the win flipped the two teams in the final rankings. The Buccaneers moved up to No. 1 and finished the season 11-0 overall. The Vikings (12-1) fell to No. 2 after losing their first regulation-length match to a Class A opponent since the 2017 state finals.

For the seniors, going out with a statement win over back-to-back Class A champion Minneota and moving up to No. 1 in the Class A rankings was the best reward for this season.

“I think it was the best game I've ever played with these girls,” senior Toryn Richards said. “It is definitely one game I'm going to remember for the rest of my life.”

wem team photo

The Waterville-Elysian-Morristown volleyball team poses after last Friday’s four-set victory at Minneota in the final match of the season. The contest was a rematch of last year’s Class A state final. (Photo courtesy of Crystal Lamont)

WEM coach Crystal Lamont said the seniors went out by proving they, and the rest of the team, are the best in Class A.

“Ideally, we would have loved a normal season, with playoffs, and a state tournament, but considering the circumstances, you couldn't write a better ending for the girls,” Lamont said. “ To be able to finish the season with a No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup and a rematch of the 2019 state tourney was very deserving for this team and this group of seniors.”

The match was originally scheduled for Nov. 28, but the WEM and Minneota activities departments worked Wednesday, Nov. 18 to reschedule it to Friday, Nov. 20, ahead of the state-mandated shutdown.

Richards said all season long, the team has taken advantage of all the in-person practices and matches. This was no different.

Richards said even though Lamont was quarantining and wasn’t with the team during the match, she still provided plenty of motivation.

“We’ve been blessed to have such an amazing coach,” Richards said. “She’s always been there for us...We knew how much she would have wanted to be there. We wanted to play for her and make that it was memorable for her too.”

After splitting the first two sets, each by a score of 25-20, the Buccaneers gained strength as the match went on. In the third set, the Buccaneers tallied 18 of its points on kills to win the set 25-19. Finally, the Buccaneers closed out the victory with an emphatic 25-15 win in the fourth set.

In total, the Buccaneers made six service errors and four reception errors. The overall level of play was easily the best of the season.

Much of the spark came from seniors Richards and Kylie Pittmann. The two combined for 50 kills and 38 digs. Pittman also had an ace and a block while Richards had two blocks.

“I told them before they left to prove they were the best players in the state and they made a good case for that,” Lamont said of Richards and Pittmann, who had a combined .408 hitting percentage. “They both played the best games of their careers.”

Guiding the two outside hitters and the rest of the offense with 56 assists and two aces was senior Ellie Ready. Senior Autumn Taylor finished with a team-high 23 digs in her best defensive performance of the season. Alex Heuss added seven kills and a block. Allison Rients notched six digs and provided effective serving, while Lindsay Condon had four “timely” kills.

Collectively, every player had their best game. It came at an opportune time against the best opponent of the season.

“I'm so happy with the way the season ended,” Richards said. “I would've been happy even if we did lose to Minneota because the girls on the team are so friendly and so nice. It was such a good season together. It was one of the most memorable seasons I'll have.”

Martin Schlegel is a freelance writer based in Dakota County.

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