Basketball and hockey get the headlines but, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ 2015-16 participation report, the most popular sport for girls in Minnesota is volleyball. More than 16,000 girls played last year. The sport’s popularity translates into lots of talent as the North Star State churns out collegiate volleyball players. Here are five metro story lines to watch this season:
1. Minnesota: Volleyball nirvana
This might be the state’s most impressive crop of high school seniors players. Among them are Champlin Park’s Sydney Hilley, last year’s Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year (Wisconsin); Lakeville South’s Jenny Mosser, an explosive hitter with a whopping 35-inch vertical jump (UCLA); Eagan’s do-everything Brie Orr (Iowa); Hopkins’ 6-3 athletic freak Jasmyn Martin (Minnesota), Belle Plaine’s powerful Mariena Hayden (Nevada-Las Vegas) ... well, you get the idea. The kicker? This is no fluke. There is a tremendous amount of talent ready to step in when this group graduates.
2. Eagan dynasty?
This is almost unfair. The defending Class 3A champs return everybody in their quest to win a third state title in four years. In addition to Orr, there’s outside hitter Alyssa Doucette (Missouri State), junior libero McKenna Melville (Central Florida) and a slew of big hitters. USA Today had Eagan No. 5 in its preseason national rankings.
3. The south has risen
The balance of power, at least amongst the large schools, rests in the south metro, or more specifically, the South Suburban Conference. Besides Eagan, 2015 Class 3A runner-up Prior Lake, Lakeville South and Shakopee are all legitimate state tournament contenders. Rosemount and Lakeville North would be conference favorites in most other leagues.
4. Too many teams, too few spots
Overall strength does have a downside. One common lament is that a lot of really good teams will get left out of the state tournament. For example, Class 3A, Section 2 includes Chaska, Eden Prairie, Marshall, Minnetonka, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Waconia. And 3A, Section 5 has Champlin Park, Delano, Osseo, St. Michael-Albertville and Wayzata. Only one team per section advances to state. “Since my freshman year, we’ve been section runner-up,” said senior Morgan Baufield of Wayzata. “It would be nice to get to state just once.”
5. Small schools, big talent
Not all of the metro’s talent is at large schools. Hayden led Belle Plaine to the Class 2A crown last year. Concordia Academy senior Erin Fallert is a possible Miss Volleyball finalist. There’s Holy Angels’ Ellie Koontz, DeLaSalle’s Maddie Duffy, Minnehaha Academy’s Iris Holman and a trio of stars at 2015 Class 1A third-place finisher Heritage Christian — Sarah Suits, Bella Lien and Maddy Torve.