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Volleyball: Eagles soar to state with sweep of Nova

As Yogi Berra would say, it's déjà vu all over again.

Repeating the pattern they displayed against Mounds Park Academy in the section semifinals, the New Life Academy Eagles advanced to their first state volleyball tournament with a sweep of Nova Classical Academy.

The Eagles won in three, 25-19, 25-20 and 25-15 Thursday, Nov. 2, at Bloomington Kennedy High School to advance to the Class A state girls volleyball tournament. The tournament will be held in the Xcel Energy Center Thursday to Saturday, Nov. 9-11. The top five teams will be seeded and it's anyone's guess if the Eagles will be seeded. Games will be played starting at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on the opening day of the eight-team tournament. The semifinals are set for Friday afternoon and the finals Saturday afternoon.

"There's a unique chemistry here and it's very real," said New Life head coach Wally Bomgren. "Many teams whoop and holler during a match, but these girls love each other and with that it helps them to overachieve sometimes. That's my hope for any team is that they just feel great about what I'm telling them and about how they feel about each other."

The section final was almost a carbon copy of the semifinal. New Life came up against a higher seeded team with a taller lineup, a much better record (23-4) and a 13-game winning streak.

None of that mattered to the Eagles, who took control early and kept it throughout the match. New Life consistently stayed a few points ahead in each set. The Nova Knights battled back each time, but could never shake the confidence of the Eagles.

Nova head coach Rachel Zinter called timeout after timeout in the first and second sets in an attempt to turn the match around, but nothing could stop New Life's momentum.

"We stayed again — like Tuesday night — we stayed really steady with our ball control and we're very relentless," Bomgren said. "We knew we had a good defense. What we didn't know so much about coming into this year was our offense. Our offense has some nice weapons. Defensively we've got some people in the back row who are flat out moving."

New Life led 21-18 in the first set, and closed it out by winning five of the final six points.

The story was much the same in the second set. The Eagles grabbed leads of 13-10 and 19-14 before winning by five.

"From the beginning we knew our team chemistry was going to carry us through and we knew that we had some key players and that all together we just bonded so close as a team that we knew we could accomplish anything we put our minds to with God at the center of everything," said New Life's Bethany Breiholz.

New Life hitters Ellianna Wiertsema, Kate Rogers, Nadia Nelson and Makenzie Roettger took turns making big swings and big kills against the Knights.

"I'm super excited. I'm just joyful and I'm just glad that we all got to have this experience," said sophomore outside hitter Wiertsema. "I felt really good and my setter was doing a really good job of getting me sets out there and I was lucky enough to be wailing on it."

In the third set, New Life started out 4-0 to open the third, advanced to 12-5 and never gave the Knights a real opening.

"In all honesty I just think we outplayed them in every aspect," said Nelson. "I'd say it's good to look great on paper but it's better to look great on the court."

New Life improved to 18-13 on the season, a very deceptive record as the Eagles took on a host of bigger 2A and 3A teams this fall. That rugged schedule paid huge dividends for the Eagles in the section wars. The Eagles won four straight 3-0 games in section play.

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