What to watch in metro volleyball this season:
Eagan ... again
Things are good at Eagan. The two-time defending Class 3A champions lost three stars to graduation, yet talent just flows in to fill those spots. McKenna Melville — coach Kathy Gillen’s daughter — brings a moxie and knowledge gleaned from her mother to the floor, making her perhaps the state’s best on-court leader.
Freshman Kennedi Orr is as versatile as her now-graduated older sister Brie (Iowa) and plays much older than her age. Then there’s Cornell-bound outside hitter Anne Wong and 6-2 middle blocker Ellie Husemann and ... well, you get the idea. The Wildcats are the team to beat once again.
After guiding Champlin Park to the Class 3A final in 2016, coach John Yunker stepped down to take an assistant coaching position at North Dakota. That was Jan. 27. Five months later, Yunker was back. Citing a bad fit, the most successful coach in Champlin Park history left UND and came back to Champlin Park.
Yunker’s return will reap benefits in terms of continuity as the Rebels have to replace two-time Metro Player of the Year Sydney Hilley. Junior setter Izzy Ashburn, already committed to Wisconsin, paces a young and talented group with just one senior starter (Bryanna Goar) back.
Prior Lake primed
Is this Prior Lake’s year? The Lakers have reached perennial contender status with back-to-back Class 3A state tournament appearances, finishing as runners-up in 2015.
They boast a lineup with two Division I seniors in libero C.C. McGraw (Minnesota) and middle hitter Kayla Bair (Michigan), who leads a potential dominant front line that includes Maddy Bremer (Northern Colorado) and Haley Stolt (Bemidji State). Expect the Lakers to be in the thick of the postseason mix.
It took 22 years for Mayer Lutheran’s coach Joelle Grimsley to lead the Crusaders to the Class 1A state title in 2016. If things go as expected, Grimsley’s wait for another title will be much shorter. Mayer Lutheran lost just two players from a year ago and boasts a talented, senior-dominated lineup led by setter/outside hitter Maddy Hucky and versatile outside hitters Sophia Heuer and Madi Beck.
The new crop
Much has been made of the volleyball talent that Minnesota continues to produce on an annual basis.
While there is the usual group of top-flight seniors this season, there’s a pretty terrific bunch of non-seniors who are making an impact.
The junior class includes Ashburn of Champlin Park and Armstrong’s Lauren Clark, who already has committed to Penn State.
Then there’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s powerful Maizy Jackson, Minneapolis Southwest’s 6-4 middle blocker Gabby McCaa and Rosemount’s UCLA-bound libero Marissa Hinkle.
And Eagan’s duo of Husemann, a 6-2 junior, and Orr, a freshman who can play any position and do it well.