1. Staying home
The Chaska volleyball team was the toast of the community in the summer of 2013 when members stuck together and won an AAU National Championship for their age group, an unheard-of achievement in an era when nearly all AAU teams are all-star teams. Chaska toiled in the always-tough Section 2 of Class 3A and lost to eventual state runner-up Delano in the section finals. The motivation borne of that loss, coupled with Hawks’ depth and experience, makes them the favorites in Class 3A this season.
Chaska has talent at nearly every position, led by senior frontliners Erin Schindler, Sarah Kelly and Lauren Nordvold. Setter Makayla Wenzel makes Chaska’s quick-set offense go and libero Keena Seiffert is an exceptional defensive presence on the back row. “We had a great team stop us last year,” coach Sue Murphy said. “This year, we’ll have a target on our backs again, but I think we’re ready for it.”
2. Section 2 gantlet
Despite its obvious qualifications, Chaska has a path to the Class 3A state tournament that is anything but assured. In addition to the Hawks and 2013 Class 3A runner-up Delano, Section 2 is home to such quality teams as Waconia, Prior Lake, Chanhassen and Shakopee. “This section is very tough, but that’s good,” Murphy said. “Good competition brings out the best in teams. You want to compete against the best.”
3. Changing of the guard
For the past few years, the prep volleyball landscape has been dominated by a group of big names, notably Lakeville North’s Alyssa Goehner, Eden Prairie’ s Sarah Wilhite, Eagan’s Taylr McNeil and Blaine’s Lydia Dimke. Such depth of talent might not be seen for years. Another member of that group, Hopkins super-setter Samantha Seliger Swenson, is in her last season before heading to Minnesota.
But there is plenty of quality talent left. Outside hitter Abby Ihrke and setter Elizabeth Mohr of Eden Prairie, outside hitter Jessica Wolf of Waconia, setter Sydney Hilley of Champlin Park and outside hitter Brie Orr of Eagan, are back and will advance Minnesota’s growing volleyball reputation nicely.
4. State tournament expansion
Now that softball has added a fourth class for its 2016 state tournament, there is growing sentiment for volleyball to add a fourth class.
In terms of participation, volleyball is the second-most popular girls’ sport at the high school level — track and field is first — and there is support among coaches to add at least one more class of postseason competition.
“It’s more or less to bring Minnesota in line with other states,” said Waconia coach Jim Lee, past president of the volleyball coaches association. “We have three classes. Iowa, I believe, has five. Wisconsin has four. Right now, we’re looking into the possibility.”
5. Small schools, big talent
With all of the attention given to big schools in the metro, the relative strength of Class 1A, Section 4 has flown under the radar. Last year section champ Southwest Christian in Chaska won the Class 1A state championship. The Stars will be strong again, but the team to watch in the section is New Life Academy. The Eagles’ junior-dominated lineup, paced by Abby Gorter, Abby Thor and Kara Stenerson, has been together for three years and is expected to make a serious state tournament run.