Conventional wisdom at the start of the season was that Lakeville South had taken a step ahead of its crosstown rival, Lakeville North, with an exciting five-set victory over the Panthers in last fall's Class 3A, Section 1 championship and a third-place state tournament finish.
It was easy to justify that belief. South returned a number of young starters from a year ago and had momentum on its side, while North lost most of its starters from its 2017 Class 3A state championship squad that hung tough among the state's top-ranked teams throughout last year
But last weekend at the Southwest Minnesota Challenge tournament in Marshall, the Panthers voiced their opposition to that belief by beating South 2-0 in the third-place match.
After a couple of days off, South (5-3, 0-0) meets North (8-1, 0-0) yet again, this time in our Top Game of the Week.
South coach Stephen Willingham has coached in Lakeville since 1986 and he knows the deep pool of volleyball talent in the area.
"This game is really fun, he said. "I like to see the development of volleyball in Lakeville and I'm always super excited for it."
And for good reason. Both Lakeville teams remain among the best in the state.
The Cougars, ranked No. 2 in the Class 3A state coaches' poll from Sept. 1, feature several quality players despite graduating standouts like Carlee Gonzalez, Jasmine Mulvihill and Alena Moldan. In addition, junior setter Jasmine Wiedemann is sidelined for the season's first seven weeks with a hip flexor injury.
Junior Teagan Starkey has filled in for Wiedemann and performed well. Senior outside hitter Payton Stier has taken command of the front line and become a six-rotation player, while Emily Torborg and Grace Carlson add to South's senior leadership.
Senior libero Halle Wolfe is the lone returning starter from a Panthers team that won 24 games a season ago. But junior outside hitter Maddy Hornyak and sophomore setter Abby Jandro have played up to their predecessors.