Today is the final look at the Prep Dig Minnesota’s preseason top-10 rankings, with the small schools taking center stage. We’ve already let the cat out of the bag in previous rankings stories on Class 3A and Class 2A, but we’ll pretend that it’s a surprise that we’re naming another repeat champion as our preseason No. 1 team.
- Mayer Lutheran — The Crusaders also have a host of top players back from a state championship team, led by All-State setter Madison Hucky. She’ll receive passes from top libero Mya Chmielewski and feed two outstanding hitters in Madi Beck and Sophia Heuer. It’s as well-rounded and deep a lineup as any in Class 1A.
- Caledonia — There’s a ton of talent in Section 1A, but Caledonia managed to emerge last year and reached the state final. The Warriors return setter Adrianna Reinhart and hitters Madisyn Heaney and Lydia Lange and will again be formidable. But it’s tough with No. 5 Hayfield, No. 6 Mabel-Canton, and No. 7 Bethlehem Academy all looming in section play.
- Tracy-Milroy-Balaton — This could be an awfully aggressive ranking for the Panthers. On the positive, they’ve qualified for three straight state tournaments, are one of the blue-blood programs in the state, and return All-State hitter Sydney Lanoue and libero Kaylee Kirk. On the negative, it’s the first time in years they’ll not be able to count on setter Gabbie Gervais, who graduated last spring.
- Rush City — Last year, the Tigers won 22 matches in their first season in Class 1A and could be even better. Top setter Taylor Williams and hitter Jamie Guptill both were named the Great River Conference’s best at their respective positions.
- Hayfield — The Vikings upset Bethlehem Academy in last year’s Section 1A tournament and return All-State setter Maggie Streightiff and hitters Kate Kruger, Olivia Matti, and Carrie Rutledge. Whomever escapes the section could very well be the favorite to win the state title.
- Mabel-Canton — For years, coach Lonnie Morken has been winning 30 matches a season with the Cougars, but hasn’t tasted a state tournament berth since 2001. Could this be the year? He did graduate his best player (setter Coranda Vickerman) but the team surprised many by finishing as the Sunday Gold division runner-up in the Breakdown’s Summer Elite Invite in early August.
- Bethlehem Academy — Gasp. The Cardinals ranked all the way back at No. 7? That’s some bulletin board material for the dominant program in Class 1A, but after losing Miss Volleyball finalist Payton Nutter, there doesn’t appear to be a “lean on me” player with perhaps the exception of MH Mary Campbell.
- Underwood — Coach Diane Ross has won 650 matches in three decades of coaching and has another top contender in this year’s Rockets. All-State hitter Brenna Tinjum is back after a big junior year.
- Wadena-Deer Creek — The last time Wadena-Deer Creek made it to state was four straight years from 2008-11 when coach Sue Volkmann’s program was led by her daughter Courtney Volkmann (and won a title in 2010 in her senior year). This time around? It’s younger daughter Casey Volkmann’s turn to power the Wolverines to state.
- Waterville-Elysian-Morristown — The Buccaneers should have had to retool after winning a state title in 2015 with a senior-dominated lineup. Instead, they won 30 matches with a strong sophomore class showing it going to keep the program relevant. MaeLea Harmon and Alexis Morsching aren’t tall, but gritty players.
Honorable mention: Kimball Area, Minneota, Stephen-Argyle Central, New Life Academy, Wheaton/Herman-Norcross