High School Volleyball Focus: Nelson, Zumbrota-Mazeppa making some early noise
Zumbrota-Mazeppa already has one excellent volleyball win under its belt, having beaten Stewartville behind star player Rylee Nelson.
There have already been some showdowns in this young volleyball season, such as Mayo beating fellow power Stewartville 3-0 on Tuesday night, Chatfield and Byron meeting twice on the same day (they split matches), and Zumbrota-Mazeppa riding its star, Rylee Nelson, in nipping Stewartville.
But there remains so much to look forward to. Mayo at Century comes right to mind, on Oct. 4, with both schools sporting among the best teams they've ever had.
Here is a look at what and why it's happened so far as we unveil our first High School Volleyball Focus of this season.
Rylee Nelson, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
Division I volleyball signings don’t happen unless a player is exceptional. Zumbrota-Mazeppa all-around specialist Rylee Nelson signed with Division I Seton Hall University in early August. On Thursday, Sept. 1, in an impressive 3-1 win over annual power Stewartville, Nelson let her play do the talking: 16 kills, 21 assists, 18 digs and 6 blocks. Yes, an all-around star indeed.
Harper Goldsmith, Chatfield
The numbers weren’t massive by Chatfield’s Harper Goldsmith. But who it came against sure resonated. In Chatfield’s 2-1 win over No 4 ranked Byron (Class AAA) on Saturday, Sept. 3, Goldsmith had a crucial 20 assists, 8 digs, 3 kills and 3 aces to guide her team to the upset win in the Century Invitational. She followed that up with a 48-assist night three days later in a 3-2 win over Rushford-Peterson.
Jaelyn LaPlante, Chatfield
Chatfield has been one of the area's best teams this season and LaPlante has been a big reason why. On Tuesday, Sept. 7, she exploded for 22 kills and 19 digs in a 3-2 win over Rushford-Peterson.
Sydney Torgerson, Houston
Torgerson is one of the best basketball players that Houston has had in recent years. Turns out the Hurricanes senior can also play volleyball a little bit. Torgerson dominated with 13 kills and a rare 11 blocks, to go along with 10 digs in Houston’s 3-1 win over Glenville-Emmons.
Falon Hepola, Cannon Falls
Hepola has been something of a revelation for the Bombers, as the freshman has put up huge numbers early this season as a setter. She had 39 set assists and 20 digs on Tuesday, Sept. 7 in a 3-1 win over Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in.)
It’s going to be interesting to see who winds up the better team, Mayo or Century. The No. 10 state-ranked Spartans were the Big Nine’s winners last year and never dropped a conference match. Mayo is great again, led by four all-Big Nine players — setter Hannah Hanson, middle blocker Maria Winter, outside hitter Madi Meyer and setter Jadyn Lester. The Spartans are coming off an impressive sweep of No. 3 ranked Stewartville (Class AAA). Circle Oct. 4 on your calendar. That’s when Mayo meets Century, in the Panthers’ gym.
Century is rolling and that was predicted. The Panthers returned four all-Big Nine Conference players this season, middle hitters Paige Decker (also all-state) and Elise Jensen, setter Megan Lund and libero Kaitlyn Meincke. Century coach Nichelle Guillaume is raving about her team’s cohesiveness and drive. The Panthers went into this week 8-0.
The Cougars are ranked second in Class AA, already have a win over No. 3 ranked Stewartville (Class AAA) and possess one of the top players in the state, Rylee Nelson. A stiff test awaits on Oct. 4, when Z-M meets No. 2 (Class AAA) Kasson-Mantorville.
It’s a new era for Kasson-Mantorville, with Adam VanOort having stepped away as head coach following eight hugely successful seasons on the job. In his place is a familiar face, Larry Hegerle, the former longtime coach at K-M who is now back for a second stint. The KoMets don’t appear to be missing many beats with him in charge, already with a couple of decisive wins. On Tuesday, Sept. 7, they slammed No. 4-ranked Southwest Christian (Class AA) 3-0.
Any thought that Byron wouldn’t be nearly as competitive without coach Owen Hoegh and his sophomore setter daughter Clara Hoegh (all-state in 2021) have been put away as the Hoeghs have moved away. Byron made it all the way to the power-packed Century Invitational final last weekend, where it lost to Class AAAA power Century.
Stewartville is Stewartville, and that is always a very good thing in volleyball. The Tigers are ranked No. 3 in Class AAA. Stewartville has taken on a wicked schedule to begin its season, with matches against state-ranked teams Rosemount, Bethlehem Academy, Cannon Falls, Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Mayo. It beat Cannon Falls in five tough sets, and Bethlehem Academy in four, but lost to Rosemount, Z-M and Mayo.
The Cougars seem to always be in the top 10 in Class A volleyball polls. They find themselves ranked fifth now, just one spot ahead of Kenyon-Wanamingo. M-C has two of the top players in southeastern Minnesota, sisters and daughters of M-C coach Lonnie Morken, Sophie and Sahara Morken.
The Gophers turned heads on Saturday when they beat No. 5-ranked Byron 26-24, 16-25, 25-20 in the Century Invitational (Byron later beat Chatfield 26-24, 25-23 in a second meeting). Freshman setter Harper Goldsmith has been excellent for the Gophers, including recording 20 assists, 8 digs, 3 kills and 3 aces in the win over Byron.
9. Cannon Falls
Cannon Falls has some big shoes to fill, with Post Bulletin 2021 Player of the Year Jaci Winchell having graduated in the spring. Still, there is some star power remaining led by 6-1 pogo stick player Madison Burr. The junior was named all-state at middle hitter last year when she totaled 384 kills.
The Knights are paced by one of the area’s top players, senior outside hitter Tessa Erlandson (345 digs, 215 kills last season). K-W is one spot below Mabel-Canton in the Class A state poll, ranked sixth. Senior Josi Quam gives the Knights one of the area’s top setters (430 assists, 117 kills last season).
Century riding high expectations
Century was not the top team in the Big Nine Conference a year ago. That distinction went to Mayo, which didn’t lose a single league match.
The Panthers figure that could be them this season, with everybody returning from last year’s 20-10 team, so much experience and arguably the top player in the conference on their side, senior middle hitter Paige Decker.
Century coach Nichelle Guillaume appreciates what she’s seen so far from her team, which entered this week 8-0 and having won the Century Invitational championship on Saturday, beating Byron 25-23, 25-12 in the title match.
“We played pretty well all day (Saturday),” Guillaume said. “We made sure we were moving as a team and communicating.”
In the championship, Century didn’t only prevail, it showed all kinds of mental fortitude in doing it. Century trailed 10-2 early in the first set and later 22-16. Still, it went on to win that one 25-23.
It was exactly the kind of showing that Guillaume was hoping her team would graduate into this season.
“In past years, our teams would get down by eight point and feel like it was over,” she said. “But Saturday, we buckled down, kept playing hard and won."