ST. PAUL — Soaring through the air and pounding down the match’s opening point, Taylor Reiss couldn’t help but turn to her Minneota volleyball teammates and smile.
Reiss smiled a lot Thursday, as she and her Vikings overwhelmed Carlton 25-21, 25-8, 25-18 in a Class A state quarterfinal win at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
This fall, Reiss — a 5-foot-11 sophomore standout who is receiving Division I interest — has 514 kills, 16 of which came Thursday for one of the state’s finest middle hitters.
On top of Reiss’ tone-setting kill to start a tighter-than-expected first set, she finished a lopsided second frame with another spike and later dug a ball on the Vikings’ final point.
“She obviously can kill the ball, but she blocks, defends and passes very well,” said sixth-year Minneota Coach Stephanie Hennen afterward. “She’s a leader on the court who does a lot for us, but is happy to share the spotlight. She just wants our team to do well. She’s a great kid to have.”
Second-seeded Minneota (30-3), just 30 minutes east of the South Dakota border — has had much success at state, making now 10 trips since 2001, including five in a row. That experience was exhibited against the unseeded Bulldogs (26-6) and three junior and sophomore starters.
“You come down to the state tournament to see teams like this,” said Carlton junior Grace Macor, who collected six kills to aid sophomore Macy Belich’s team-high nine.
Macor admitted the bright lights, big arena and blue-and-grey floor made several players nervous. Reiss, who has been to state tournament commoner, recalled her first scene.
“I was really nervous,” she confessed. “Experience always helps. I think it worked into our advantage [today].”
In her 36th season with the Bulldogs, Coach Barb Soukkala said it wasn’t so much the limelight that was an advantage for Minneota, but rather the Vikings’ vast skill.
“They were good,” said Soukkala, who stayed positive, greeting a faithful contingent of fans in the arena’s seats.
Shortly afterward, Soukkala’s team gathered together for fruity shakes, a team dinner and hangout time at their hotel.
“There are a lot of schools that aren’t down here,” Soukkala said. “This will be something they will remember all of their lives. Maybe later on they’ll bring their own teams down here and say that they got to play on this floor.”
Carlton, which last went to state nine years ago, led just three points Thursday, but was confident coming into Friday to face consolation foe Martin County West (26-7) at 3 p.m.
“Today we took a lot in,” said Carlton’s Myranda Papesh, the team’s only senior, who stepped into the Xcel for her first time Thursday. “We’ll be better tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Minneota meets No. 3 Southwest Minnesota Christian (29-5) in tomorrow’s semifinals at 3 p.m., as the Vikings seek their school’s second state crown since 2006.
If the Vikings do that, expect Reiss’ widest smile yet.
Class A Quarterfinals
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
No. 2 Minneota def. Carlton 25-21, 25-8, 25-18
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