Bethleham Academy vs. Marshall
7:15 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 31

With a combined 38 state tournament appearances and 13 state titles, Bethlehem Academy and Marshall are among the true blueblood programs in Minnesota volleyball history (Marshall has 26 state berths and six championships, Bethlehem Academy has made 12 state appearances and won seven titles).

And for the past few years, their early season match has given a great heads-up to the relative strength of each program. That should be the same this fall.

Even with the above pedigree, it has been two years since Marshall was at state. That’s also the final year the Tigers were in Class 2A before being bumped up to Class 3A.

Now, coach Dan Westby’s team returns to its roots in Class 2A and immediately leaps into the top-10 rankings.

The No. 5-2A Tigers (1-1) opened the year with a five-set loss at Willmar but rebounded to sweep Blue Earth Area last Saturday. A few early ups and downs might be expected, as Westby graduated a talented senior class and looks to be led by underclassmen such as junior Erica Jones and sophomore Paige Andries

Bethlehem Academy, meanwhile, was upset by Hayfield in the Class 1A, Section 1 semifinals last year after being ranked No. 1 much of the season. The No. 4-1A Cardinals also begin the year without Miss Volleyball finalist Payton Nutter for the first time in seven years (she was on varsity since her seventh-grade season).

Coach Franz Boelter will again test his team with a tough schedule that includes seven of 14 regular-season matches against ranked teams, and a series of tournaments with Class 3A powers.

Senior middle Mary Campbell could have a big year in the middle.