On paper, not many expected Minnetonka Volleyball to repeat the kind of success that came in 2018. Twenty-four wins, a Lake Conference title, and a Section 2AAA championship appearance.
A new setter, an all new defensive back row, three new hitters, the Skippers entered the 2019 season with a number of question marks.
Early losses to Shakopee, Lakeville North and Prior Lake showed Minnetonka needed more time to grow together. A 17-3 record ever since shows where the Skippers are now entering the state tournament.
"Once in a while you get this fun team like this year where the sum is greater than the parts. The best players don't win the state tournament necessarily. The best team usually does. And (in the section final), by an absolute whisker, we were the best team," Minnetonka head coach Karl Katzenberger said.
Minnetonka, at state for the first time since 1976, enters with 25 wins, third-most in Class 3A behind Eagan (29) and Wayzata (28).
Of their six losses, two have come against No. 2 seed Wayzata and another versus No. 3 seed Lakeville North.
Minnetonka advanced to the state tournament with wins over Chanhassen, New Prague and Chaska in the Section 2AAA playoffs. A rally in the fifth game from a 7-2 deficit put the Skippers over the top in the finals.
That experience coupled with an 18-0 record in tournaments this season -- Minnetonka winning 37 of 41 sets -- has the Skippers ready for the days ahead.
"It's all these kids from day one after we picked the team and we got together, everyone looked at each other in the eye and said no one outside of this circle expects anything from us this year. Definitely not a section championship," Katzenberger said.
Minnetonka, the No. 4 seed, draws Moorhead (19-11) in the quarterfinals at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The fifth-seeded Spuds beat Sartell-St. Stephen in the Section 8AA championship.
Moorhead, which traveled to the metro area to play in tournaments in Shakopee and Lakeville, enters having won nine of the last 10 matches. It is their program's fifth consecutive trip to state and 25th overall.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Moorhead: Senior outside hitter/setter Claire Howell (18 kills, 22 assists and six blocks in section final), Junior middle hitter Sam Zimmerman (14 kills), Senior outside hitter Jalen Ennen (14 kills and 33 digs), Sophomore setter Alexa Gronwold (18 digs and 17 assists), and Junior libero Willow Carrier had 20 digs.
Minnetonka: Senior outside hitter Skyler Germann (337 kills, 44 aces, 304 digs), Junior setter Olivia Koeppen (710 assists, 24 aces, 178 digs), Sophomore outside hitter Abby Stanwood (304 kills, 49 aces, 207 digs), Junior middle hitter Kali Engeman (232 kills, 86 blocks) and Senior libero Sarah Stolar (167 digs).