Door finally open in Section 1AAA
Lakeville North’s exit creates opportunity, excitement for Rochester teams
By Donny Henn
The doorstop formally known as Lakeville North is gone from the Section One, Class AAA volleyball tournament.
Now we’ll see which long-deprived team from southeastern Minnesota will finally step through the open door to the state tournament.
The Section 1AAA volleyball tournament begins Thursday, and for the first time in many years the champion doesn’t seem to be predestined.
The Minnesota State High School League’s summertime section realignment pared down the Section 1AAA volleyball tournament from 18 teams to 12.
Among the departures are all of the Twin Cities south metro powers which dominated the section for nearly 30 years.
Lakeville North, the two-time defending Section 1AAA champion and currently the No. 1-ranked team in the state, is now in Section 3AAA.
"My reaction is mixed," said Century coach Bob Koerner.
"The fact that Lakeville North has been section champs so many times, their absence certainly creates possibilities for other programs to make the state trip, which is exciting.
"But it was also always just fun to play against the caliber of teams that (Lakeville North coach) Milan Mader always brought down here."
Lakeville North is the latest team from the Twin Cities south metro area which has dominated the section.
It’s been 12 years since a non-metro area team won this section — Owatonna in 1995 — and it’s been 34 years since a Rochester volleyball team played at state. Mayo played in the first MSHSL state volleyball tournament in 1974 when it was only one class.
Lourdes had been in Section 1AAAbut has moved back to Section One of Class AA.
Now, the section tournament appears wide open. Top seed Owatonna is the only ranked team in the field at No. 8.
Owatonna, coached by Rod Nakagaki, beat all three Rochester teams in the Big Nine Conference season. But the Huskies also lost a regular-season match 3-0 to No. 4 seed Faribault.
Mayo, the No. 3 seed, shared the Big Nine crown with Owatonna, and the Spartans are coming off a championship performance at the 16-team Fall Invitational tournament at the National Volleyball Center.
Mayo, coached by Deb Frederick, is working toward its fifth straight 20-win season. The Spartans’ season has been ended by Lakeville North three of the last four years.
"I think it has more of an effect on the players, realizing that they have a real shot (at state)," said Frederick, Mayo’s third-year coach.
"Lakeville North has been the powerhouse for so long; it’s nice that the kids on other teams have that feeling of excitement. … that maybe, just maybe this is their year."