St. Louis Park junior outside hitter Hannah Howell had one number in mind after a recent win over No. 9-3A St. Michael-Albertville: Zero.
Yes, zero, as in the number of losses the Orioles have had through six games.
Howell, a fourth-year varsity player who leads St. Louis Park with 57 kills, and her teammates take the big-picture approach because they desperately want to erase the biggest zero hanging over them: The number of state tournaments St. Louis Park has participated in.
"That's the No. 1 goal," Howell said. "We want to be the first."
The Orioles (6-0, 0-0) made it to the Class 3A, Section 6 semifinals last season before losing in straight sets to eventual section champion Edina. Five starters, including Howell, senior Makaila Winward (team leader with 172 set assists and 15 service aces) and senior libero Addie Warg (team leader with 48 digs), are back with a stronger mental mindset, coach Whitney Meierotto-Simon said.
"Last year, I believe our biggest downfall was the mental side of the game," she said.
The Orioles' next test is against Hopkins (2-1, 0-0), a program that is no stranger to the state tournament, and a Class 3A, Section 6 rival. Hopkins played in three consecutive Class 3A state tourneys from 2015-17 but missed the event last year after a 10-15 regular season with a young squad. Many of those players have returned and are expected to have improved.
This will be just the fourth meeting between St. Louis Park and Hopkins since 2010. The Royals won the first three.