Looking for unusual matchups? That's what the angle is for the 5 p.m. match on the East court at Hopkins' Lindbergh Center, when Twin Cities bigschool North St. Paul takes on southwestern Minnesota small school Minneota at the first annual Side Out Classic.
On paper, North St. Paul appears to have the edge. The Polars play in the tough Metro East Conference and Section 4AAA — and they return many key players from a productive squad.
"This team will go into next season having played a number of contests together," said North St. Paul coach Steve Anderson, whose team won 21 matches last year and looks to be a strong contender in Section 4AAA. "Our keys to success will be using our team chemistry to our advantage and utilizing the many talents that everyone brings to the table. This team has the potential to be unpredictable offensively and will consistently play tenacious defense."
The Polars begin with veteran libero Clara Krenz and setter Holly Ellwanger, both of whom are top seniors. Seniors continue to dot the lineup with middles Gabbie Cave and Abby Rieser and outside hitter Nevena Vukomanovich all expected to be key contributors. The three hitters all had triple-digit kills last fall, led by Vukomanovich's 256. She's a four-year starter with great leaping ability.
Don't count out Minneota, though.
Minneota coach Stephanie Hennen expects her Vikings to finish at or near the top of the Camden Conference and Section 3A. But what else is new? Minneota has been doing just that for the past decade, arguably becoming the most consistently successful Class A program outside of Bethlehem Academy. Last fall's third-place finish capped the Vikings' ninth state trip in the last 13 years -- and third straight third-place finish. A terrific group of athletes has been flowing through the pipeline over that time and it should continue for the forseeable future, although that's not to say there won't be challenges. Hennen graduated a deep group of seniors that have paced the program, including All-State setter Megan Larson and outside hitter Molly Hennen. The Vikings will return the Class A pre-season player of the year in Taylor Reiss, however.
Reiss, a South Dakota State commit, should be the best player on the floor and capable of taking over. As a junior, she slammed 564 kills and had 403 digs to led her team in both categories.
The Vikings' hopes of an upset could rest outside of Reiss, as other than Payton Boerboom, Emily Steinessen and Krista Maeyaert, there isn't a lot of veteran experience. But there is plenty of athleticism in the group.
Why North St. Paul will win:
Why Minneota will win:
Our pick: North St. Paul in five.