Posted On: 08/12/17 12:00 PM
Pick your cliché.
The rich get richer? Indeed.
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Perhaps.
It’s tougher to stay at the top than to make it there. Don’t count on it.
Prep Dig Minnesota’s preseason top-10 rankings by class argue against that last cliché, as all three No. 1 teams are the defending champions in their respective class. With young lineups that came through last fall, Eagan in Class 3A, Maple Lake in Class 2A, and Mayer Lutheran in Class 1A are poised to further fill their trophy cases this year.
It could be tough, though. The last time Minnesota had repeat champions in every class? Go back to 1981, when there were only two classes and Robbinsdale Armstrong (Class 2A) and Moose Lake (Class 1A) were both raising the trophy for the second straight season.
- Eagan — The Wildcats have been fixtures in the state championship match lately, with three championships and a second-place finish in the last four years. Coach Kathy Gillen is a master tactician who does more with great talent than anyone. She will have to replace Miss Volleyball finalist and setter Brie Orr, but it’s probably time for her younger sister, freshman Kennedi Orr, to assume that full-time mantle. She’s arguably the best freshman in the country, while outside hitter McKenna Melville (Gillen’s daughter) is one of the favorites to win Miss Volleyball this fall.
- Prior Lake — The past two years, Prior Lake and Eagan have dueled throughout the regular season for the top ranking, but no matter regular season results, the Wildcats have bested the Lakers in the state tournament. This year’s Lakers’ team could be its best yet, with a terrific senior class anchored by All-State libero CC McGraw and middle Kayla Bair.
- Champlin Park — It’s the end of the Sydney Hilley era at Champlin Park, after the 2016 Miss Volleyball winner led the Rebels to three straight state tournaments. It’s also the end of John Yunker’s tenure as coach, the combo of which should have spelled doom, right? Not so fast. There remains a supremely talented group of sophomores and juniors, including the all-conference trio of setter Izzy Ashburn, libero Kaitlyn Weimerskirsch, and hitter Emma Schmidt.
- Lakeville North — After reloading the past two years, it’s time for Lakeville North to shine. The youth movement is now grown up, with five returning all-conference regulars, including senior middle Kennedy Brady and setter Amanda Burger, and junior outside Elizabeth Juhnke.
- East Ridge — The coaching carousel brought Steve Anderson from North St. Paul, where he inherits a top returning roster coming off a 21-victory season. All-State libero Ella Ratzloff will keep the ball from hitting the floor, while setter Stephanie Barber will run the offense. Keep an eye on freshmen Lauren Crowl and Lauren Galvin, two of the best players in the state at their age level.
- Stillwater Area — Based on the club season, most observers expect the Ponies to be one of the top teams in Class 3A — and we agree. Returning veterans Mikayla Gjerde, Rachel Houle, and Maddie Whittington combined for more than 600 kills last fall.
- Hopkins — While the Royals will move forward without All-State middle Jasmyn Martin (who is now at the U of M), the cupboard is far from bare, particularly in the front row. All-State setter Tara Lee has plenty of options to look towards, such as senior Jane Nelson and junior Anna Erickson. Sophomore middle Chudear Tut could make a big leap as an imposing net force.
- Wayzata — The depth of coach Scott Jackson’s program will certainly be tested this year, as the “Big Three” of Morgan Baufield, Kate Berg, and MacKenzie Groechel has all graduated after leading the Trojans to 24 victories. While there isn’t a ton of experience, there is talent, and in our opinion, will show as the season advances.
- Moorhead — The Spuds returned to state for the third time in four years last fall and are the favorites in Section 8AAA again. Coach Char Lien returns several key players, including three-year letter winners Kortney Carney at setter and Lexi Gilbertson at hitter.
- Shakopee — If there’s a common thread among most of the top-10 in Class 3A, it’s on the bench, where superb coaching keeps the programs among the best. That goes at Shakopee, where Matt Busch has guided the Sabers to good years through talent boons and droughts. Expect a coming boon, with juniors Rachel Kilkelly and Madeline Wherley leading the way.
Honorable mention: Blaine, Bloomington Jefferson, Chaska, North St. Paul, Waconia