The opening match of the Breakdown's first annual Side Out Classic on the East court at Hopkins' Lindbergh Center features two big-school programs on the rise when Mounds View faces Cambridge-Isanti.
"Our expectations for the 2014 season remain the same," said Mounds View coach Tom Weko, whose team won 20 matches last fall.
"We expect to contend for a conference and section title," continued Weko. "We lost several talented players to graduation but have younger very talented players ready to step in and pick up where those seniors left off. Our strengths will be our ability to control the ball. Our top receiving and defensive players are returning and will provide stability in those two areas. Finding a replacement for two year starting setter Ashley Linn will be key to our offensive success. We have the players to provide the offensive punch but we'll need to find someone to get them the ball."
The Mustangs will rely on senior libero Jen Madaras to anchor the back row and the team's defense. She's a good leader who can take control. Weko's hitters aren't as experienced, but they are plenty talented, including sophmore Sarah Larson and senior Jacky Volkert.
Middle hitters Nicole Martin and Veronica Rasmussen will put up a good block, something that will be necessary against Cambridge-Isanti and All-American outside hitter Claire Sheehan, who racked up 547 kills as a freshman. Coach Vicki Courts calls Sheehan "fiery and athletic."
Behind Sheehan, Cambridge-Isanti should be considered a favorite out of Section 7AAA, as the Bluejackets return nearly their entire team from a 22-victory season. Only two seniors who played secondary roles have graduated, setting up a great season. In addition to Sheehan, All-Conference setter Sydney Larkin is back, as is All-Conference honorable mention libero Shelby Sjodin, both seniors.
Why Mounds View will win:
Why Cambridge-Isanti will win:
Our pick: Cambridge-Isanti in five.