For thousands of Minnesota teenagers, Monday was the first day of school.

Those on high school teams participating in football, soccer, volleyball, cross-country, girls' tennis and girls' swimming and diving opened fall practice seasons on a postcard summer day that was a far cry from last spring's prolonged snow and cold that created havoc with schedules.

Football: Class of the class?

In football, the new season brings hope even as a pair of Eagles circle in the skies above.

Physical, relentless Eden Prairie is favored to win an unprecedented third consecutive big-school title. A new worthy challenger joins Class 6A this season: Totino-Grace. Winners of seven state championships since 2003 in the second-largest class, these Eagles opted up two classes to take on the heavyweights.

Some teams began football practice last week because they are starting their seasons a week earlier.

Volleyball: Where the girls are

While most teams worked out in sunshine, bouncing balls filled high school gyms as volleyball teams took to the courts to play Minnesota's most popular girls' indoor sport. In the 2011-12 school year, volleyball had 14,805 participants compared to 11,630 for basketball, according to Minnesota State High School League statistics.

Among the things to watch this season is whether Lakeville North's Alyssa Goehner, who battled salmonella poisoning over the summer, can repeat as Metro Player of the Year and lead the Panthers to their third state championship in four years. Another is whether the addition of superb freshman Jasmyn Martin to a Hopkins lineup that already includes the nation's top junior setter in Samantha Seliger Swenson can lift the Royals to their first state tournament appearance since 2007.

Soccer: Talent goes and stays

In soccer, girls' teams took to the practice field experiencing, for the first time, the same potential talent drain that has affected the boys' sport as well. Some top players are training in the Minnesota Thunder Academy and will not be able to compete at the high school level.

And some, such as three of last year's four captains at Lakeville North, are passing on the Thunder Academy option. The Panthers, with nine returning varsity players, opened practice intending to build a formula that will break a trend of semifinal defeats in each of the past two state tournaments.

staff reports