Volleyball fans can expect to spend the next three days stargazing.
The 2016 volleyball state tournament takes center stage at Xcel Energy Center and fans eagerly are awaiting the most competitive Class 3A field in years. The top five teams in the final 3A coaches association rankings — Eagan, Champlin Park, Lakeville South, Hopkins and Prior Lake — all qualified for the tournament, as did underrated Roseville, making its fifth straight appearance.
Toss in dark horse Moorhead and an underdog in surprise entrant Grand Rapids and you have all the fixins for a spicy volleyball stew.
“This is exactly what a state tournament should be,” Eagan coach Kathy Gillen said. “I’m sure a lot of people will come out just to watch great volleyball even if they don’t have a favorite team involved.”
Gillen knows great volleyball. She’s coached the Wildcats to two 3A titles in the past three years and has a trio of players — Brie Orr, Alyssa Doucette and Taylor Olstad — making their fourth state tournament appearance. Eagan, the No. 1 seed, has been atop the poll since the season began and has just one loss, to No. 2 seeded Champlin Park in the final of the Chaska tournament on Oct. 22.
Despite the victory, Champlin Park coach John Yunker believes that Eagan is the team to beat, but that no team has an easy path.
“Eagan is and always has been the favorite,” he said. “That being said, there are no ‘Get Out of Jail’ matches where you can slip but not fall.”
The key to the Class 3A field is the depth of the individual talent on display. Champlin Park features two-time Metro Player of the Year Sydney Hilley, who has committed to Wisconsin and added to her trophy case Wednesday by being selected 2016 Ms. Volleyball. Eagan has three players committed to Division I schools with Orr (Iowa), Doucette (Missouri State) and junior McKenna Melville (Central Florida).
Lakeville South, making its first tournament appearance, boasts the athleticism of outside hitter Jenny Mosser (UCLA) and libero Halle Johnston (Iowa). The Cougars will face two-time runner-up Prior Lake, led by a pair of juniors with Big Ten futures in libero C.C. McGraw (Minnesota) and outside hitter Kayla Bair (Michigan).
Hopkins, the No. 3 seed, has another future Gopher in outside hitter Jaz Martin, while Rose-ville has three Division II recruits in setter Bre Maloney (Winona State) and hitters Julia Deyak and Alivia Garbe (both Minnesota St., Mankato).
“Having such a deep and talented tournament is great for the sport,” Prior Lake coach Mike Dean said. “I think this is a year where a hot team could do something special.”
What makes a hot team? For all of the tremendous physical ability on court, coaches agree that a strong mental approach is essential.
“The athletes at this level are so skilled and understand the game so well that anyone can win at this point,” Lakeville South coach Stephen Willingham said. “The team that can stay composed under pressure will be the most successful.”
“You have to be outstanding for three matches,” Roseville coach Greg Ueland said. “You need to handle the pressure, be brave in difficult, adverse situations and be mentally tough.”
Classes 2A, 1A
There will be new champions crowned in Class 1A and Class 2A as the defending champions in 1A (Waterville-Elysian-Morristown) and 2A (Belle Plaine) both were eliminated in the section finals.
Mayer Lutheran earned the No. 1 seed in 1A, followed by No. 2 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, No. 3 Caledonia, No. 4 Heritage Christian and No. 5 Underwood.
The No. 1 seed in Class 2A is Kenyon-Wanamingo, followed by No. 2, Maple Lake, No. 3 Kasson-Mantorville, No. 4 Concordia Academy and No. 5 Morris/Chokio-Alberta.