Volleyball is back. Along with it is our first helping of High School Volleyball Focus, which zeroes in on the hottest teams and individuals in southeastern Minnesota. We also offer Power Ranking and examine other volleyball news and notes
In some cases, things have stayed the same, with such teams as Stewartville, Kasson-Mantorville and Mabel-Canton looking as good as ever.
But there is also some new blood out there. Look out for Lanesboro, Hayfield and Fillmore Central. And Cannon Falls, led by Jaci Winchell, looks to be for real.
(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.)
This is a new cast of Tigers, mostly. Graduated from last year’s unbeaten team are four-time All-State outside hitter Erin Lamb (playing at the University of Kentucky), elite setter Jaidyn Brower, punishing middle hitter Jolie Stecher, and more. But there is another star with experience on this 2021 team, outside hitter Allie Elliott, who will play next year at Division I Fairfield University. Elliott has plenty of developing talent around her, too. This is Stewartville. The Tigers and their Hall of Fame coach John Dzubay develop players, always. Stewartville is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AAA.
Kenidi McCabe — one of the Cougars’ all-time best players — has graduated after a long and ultra-successful high school career. That hurts, as the versatile McCabe was a three-time All-State player, roving around as a setter, outside hitter and middle hitter. She came complete with a rare 29-inch vertical jump. Some different M-C players are in the limelight now, and it’s working. Two of them are daughters of Cougars’ longtime coach Lonnie Morken, junior Sophie and freshman Sahara Morken. Sophie recently had 14 kills and 10 digs in a match, and Sahara had 43 sets in a match. Mabel-Canton is ranked No. 4 in Class A.
The KoMets had to patiently wait until Thursday to play their first match. That’s not easy when greatness is presumed again, with K-M ranked No. 6 in the state in Class AAA. Senior setter Maddie Converse is the leader of this crew. The fourth-year starter is one of K-M’s best-ever players and among the best setters in the state. Also look out for Cate Wanous, the KoMets’ ace libero who is a third-year starter. Under coach Adam VanOort, K-M never seems to take a break from greatness.
4. Cannon Falls
The Bombers already have one impressive win under their belt, beating strong Class AAAA team Rochester Century 3-1 one week ago. The team’s top player, setter Jaci Winchell, has been awesome. Winchell had 42 assists, 9 digs, 4 kills and an ace against Century, a team that followed up that loss by dismantling Owatonna. As good as Winchell is, this is hardly a one-player show. Middle hitter Madison Burr, libero Breanna Robinson and defensive specialist Kyra Schoenfelder are all top talents. Cannon Falls is ranked No. 4 in Class AA.
Mayo is off to a strong start after blasting Farmington 3-0 on Tuesday. Mayo plays Stewartville on Thursday, Sept. 2. The Spartans have a balanced attack and are also with star power in setter/middle blocker Hannah Hanson, outside hitter Madison Meyer and middle hitter Maria Winter. Jaydyn Lester is also an accomplished setter. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses here, and 17th-year coach Deb Frederick knows how to win.
Caledonia didn’t just win its first three matches, it obliterated the competition. Wins over Winona, Orono and Winona Cotter all came by the same 3-0 score. The Warriors graduated a bunch of talent last year. But it doesn’t seem to have mattered. Junior setter Jovial King has been a big problem for opponents and a wonderful solution for her teammates. She had 30 assists against Cotter. Look for the Warriors to sneak into the state Class AA top 10 soon.
The Burros have been dreaming and scheming about a way to finally catch up to Mabel-Canton in Southeast Conference volleyball. Lanesboro has the makings to make inroads, with some serious talent in senior setter Ella Cambern, senior libero Malia Tessum, junior middle hitter Jessie Schreiber and junior middle hitter Kaci Ruen. Ruen had 26 kills and 13 digs in Lanesboro’s 3-1 win over Kingsland. Oh, by the way, Lanesboro has Mabel-Canton next, on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Goodhue got off to a decisively winning start on Tuesday, beating Blooming Prairie 3-0. The Wildcats, who always seem loaded with great athletes in every sport, have a couple of fine volleyball players in Anika Schaefer and Joslyn Clarson. Carlson had 117 kills and 15 blocks a year ago. Against Blooming Prairie, Schaefer had a whopping 30 set assists.
The Vikings already have a pair of impressive wins. They beat formidable Fillmore Central 3-2 a week ago, then blanked Pine Island 3-0 on Tuesday. Hayfield has an athletic crop of girls right now. Reese Bauman (11 kills) and Natalee Heydt (19 digs) were the stars against Pine Island. Against Fillmore Central, McKenna Chick had 31 digs and Bauman 13 kills.
10. Fillmore Central
Fillmore Central went into Thursday night just 1-1, but it was an impressive .500. After barely losing to excellent team Hayfield 3-2, it followed that up with a 3-1 win over a Chatfield team that has high expectations. The Falcons are getting nice contributions from a variety of players. Kammry Broadwater and Lauren Mensink have been especially good. Broadwater has had respective matches of 13 and 15 kills, and Mensink has had matches of 26 assists and 23 digs, and 37 assists and 10 digs.
Jaci Winchell, Sr. Cannon Falls: It’s been quite a start for Winchell, who is regarded among the top setters in the state. The athletic, 5-foot-7 senior had 27 assists in a win over Jordan, then went completely over the top with 42 assists, 9 digs, 4 kills and an ace in a 3-1 win over formidable Century.
Kaci Ruen, Jr,, Lanesboro: The middle hitter is a huge problem for teams when she’s at the net. The junior had a monster match against Kingsland, with 26 kills and 13 digs in a 3-1 win.
Allie Elliott, Sr. Stewartville: The Tigers' standout outside hitter showed why she is worthy of having recently verbally committed to Division I Fairfield University in Connecticut. Elliott had 12 kills, 18 digs and 2 aces in a competitive win over Faribault Bethlehem Academy. Then she followed that up with a performance of 16 kills and 22 digs as No. 2-ranked Stewartville beat solid team Byron 3-1.
Jovial King, Jr., Caledonia: King has had plenty of reasons to be “Jovial.” She is killing it on the volleyball court. The junior setter had 30 assists in the Warriors’ 3-0 win over Winona Cotter. King has been a big key to Caledonia’s 3-0 start.
Clara Hoegh, Fr., Byron: The freshman is shaping into one of the most promising young setters in the state. Hoegh was wildly good in a 3-1 win over Faribault. She had 40 assists and 21 digs. Hoegh is part of a Byron team that is going to be competitive all season.