On a Saturday afternoon in September, Northfield coach Tim Torstenson was mourning the passing of a family member and intent on being a source of comfort for his daughter, Emma Torstenson, a junior outside hitter with the Raiders.
When Torstenson spotted his entire varsity lineup at the funeral, he experienced a shock that left him emotionally overwhelmed — even if he wasn't completely surprised.
"The whole team was there," he said. "All dressed up. They were there to support their teammate."
Torstenson has come to expect cohesiveness from his Raiders (19-1, 8-0), who have lost just one match — a 2-0 decision on Sept. 21 to No. 1-3A Eagan — and have held the No. 2 spot in the Class 3A coaches' poll for several weeks.
"This group has just continued to become more of a team. They play so well together and they know each other so well," Torstenson said.
And the Raiders believe they are amid a special season. Although winning the Big 9 Conference championship isn't the team's primary goal, it is the next benchmark. A victory over Mankato West (10-6-1, 7-1-1) would pretty much secure that title.
"We don't want to be overconfident, but [the team has] a really good feeling about the way we are playing," Torstenson said, adding that a failure to win the league title wouldn't be a season-ender, but it would be a disappointment.
Mankato West is led by senior hitter Emily Bergeman and sophomore libero Abbi Stierlen. Because the Scarlets lost 3-1 to Rochester Mayo on Sept. 3, Mankato West could force a three-way tie with Northfield and Mayo for a Big 9 title by defeating the Raiders this week.