Tough choice avoided

When the Minnesota State High School League initially moved volleyball to spring, it put the local volleyball community into a tizzy. Spring, particularly March and April, is the heart of the Junior Olympic (JO) volleyball season, full of high-profile regional and national tournaments. It's also the heart of college recruiting season, with coaches out en masse watching players. After losing much of last spring to COVID-19, players were dreading being forced to choose between playing for their high school team or positioning themselves for the future. Coaches and players breathed a sigh of relief when the fall season was reinstated.

Eagan's incredible run

The Wildcats have played in seven consecutive Class 3A championship matches, having won titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016. It's a testament to the depth of the program and coaching by Kathy Gillen and her staff that the Wildcats remain on top while other programs rise and fall. That state tournament run likely would have reached eight this year if the pandemic hadn't shortened the postseason. Setter/hitter Kennedi Orr is the most versatile player in the state and a peerless leader. Middle hitter Abby Moe is strong and quick at the net. And a trio of talented juniors — Sienna Ifill (OH), 6-5 Kendal Kemp (MH) and Simara Amador (DS)— make the Wildcats once again the 3A standard-bearer.

Who would normally be next?

Which other team would have reached the 3A final this year? It makes sense to check out Section 1, where Northfield returns all but two starters from the team that went 28-2 but lost in the section semifinals to Lakeville South. Both libero Emma Torstenson and outside hitter Megan Reilly are elite-level players. If sophomore Teagan Timperly can ably fill the setter position, Northfield is primed to take off. Don't sleep on either of the Lakeville teams. South boasts an elite combo of 6-foot-3 middle hitter Ava Moes, a Tennessee commit, and setter Teagan Starkey. North has most of its team back from a year ago, led by dynamo Maddy Hornyak, a 5-11 outside hitter who makes up in grit what she lacks in height.

Jim Paulsen