Regardless of the result of her team's Class 3A quarterfinal match, Lakeville North setter Erica Handley is planning on spending a few extra hours at the Xcel Energy Center as a fan Thursday.
Handley transferred to Lakeville North last spring from Win-E-Mac, which she led to Class 1A state tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Her heady play at setter has been a big reason the Panthers are 29-1 and the No. 1 seed in 3A in the volleyball state tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
But just because Handley left Win-E-Mac doesn't mean she left her past behind. She spent much of her free time last weekend keeping tabs on her former team, which beat Lake of the Woods to advance to the Class 1A tournament for the third consecutive year.
"I was hoping they would win so I would get to see all of my old friends," Handley said. "I've been back up there a couple of times and, of course, I've kept in touch with social media, but it will be great to see them all down here."
A Division I-caliber setter who has committed to Syracuse, Handley plans to be Win-E-Mac's biggest fan when the Patriots take on Nevis in the 1A quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Thursday. She said her departure has been a "win-win'' for both teams.
"It feels so surreal to be playing here for a [Class 3A] team, but it's always been my dream to play for a big, Triple-A school," she said. "My old friends know that and they understand. I'm just so excited for them to get back here."
JIM PAULSENEagles benefit from depth
Eden Prairie's depth played a big role in the Eagles' return to the state tournament to defend their title.
Senior setter Maddie Reese dislocated her hip the Monday before the Class 3A, Section 6 playoffs began, but her absence didn't hurt as much as anticipated. Sophomore Elizabeth Mohr stepped into the role without a problem.
"Her confidence just keeps getting better and better. I'm so proud of her," Reese said of her replacement. "I've definitely seen growth in her ability and leadership. Honestly, I've kind of known she can do it the whole time."
Mohr handed out 43 assists and had seven digs in Eden Prairie's 3-1 victory over Hopkins in the section championship Saturday. The backup also should play a big role this week at Xcel Energy Center. Though Reese did see time in Saturday's game, the senior captain's contribution has been limited to the back row because of the injury.Bad year for trends
Bethlehem Academy will attempt to break a trend that stretches back to 2003. The Cardinals, from Faribault, have won Class 1A state championships in every odd year since 2003. That makes five in the past nine seasons.
What about 2012 for the defending champion? Seniors Jessie Mathews and Maddie Borwege and sophomore Payton Schultz -- all four-year starters -- have all experienced the even-year pattern and hope to provide enough experience to the group to break it.
JASON GONZALEZThree look to repeat
Marshall, in Class 2A, joins Eden Prairie and Bethlehem Academy in returning to defend its 2011 title.