The Prior Lake volleyball team saw its three-year title reign end in Section 2AAA last fall.
But according to the preseason Class 3A volleyball rankings released by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association, the Lakers are the favorite in the their section to earn the crown back this season.
Prior Lake is one of two Section 2AAA teams ranked in the first poll, opening at No. 7, while New Prague is No. 9. Shakopee is the defending champion.
The Lakers finished last season with a 14-16 overall record, losing to Minnetonka in the Section 2AAA semifinals. It was Prior Lake's first losing season since it went 11-17 in 2011.
Prior Lake played in the section title game four straight years, losing to Chaska in 2014 before beating Shakopee in 2015 and 2016 and knocking off Eden Prairie in five sets in 2017.
At state, Prior Lake was the runner-up in 2015, fifth in 2016 and third in 2017.
The Lakers were rebuilding last year. The team graduated just two seniors, so there will be plenty of talent back this fall, starting with sophomore Julia Hanson and senior Dezirae Spratt.
Hanson led the Lakers in kills last year with 355, adding 70 digs and 36 blocks. Spratt finished with a team-best 50 ace serves and added 269 kills, 238 digs and 14 blocks.
Prior Lake finished 5-4 in the South Suburban Conference last fall. Every season, the SSC features many of the state's elite squads. Four are ranked in the preseason poll, including No. 1 Eagan, No. 2 Lakeville South and No. 8 Lakeville North.
Shakopee will again be a strong team, as it usually is.
Champlin Park is the defending state champion, beating Eagan in five sets last year for the crown. The Rebels are ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll ahead of East Ridge at No. 5 and Stillwater at No. 6.
Wayzata is the highest ranked Lake Conference team at No. 3, and Hopkins is No. 10.
Volleyball practices around the state start Aug. 12. Prior Lake will open the season at East Ridge April 23.
The Lakers' first home match is Aug. 29 against Northfield, while the first SSC contest is Sept. 10 at Lakeville South. All three start at 7 p.m.
Prior Lake's first tournament will be the Southwest Minnesota Challenge in Marshall Sept. 6-7.