Last season was a breakthrough for the Northfield volleyball program.
A championship at the talent-laden Southwest Minnesota Challenge, a third consecutive Big 9 Conference title and finishing the regular season ranked second in Class AAA were all highs for the program, but was all ultimately overshadowed by the team's five-set loss in the section semifinals against Lakeville South.
It was the second straight year the Cougars eliminated the Raiders in five sets in the section semifinals.
Now, Northfield returns with largely the same core and is once again poised to compete for the program's first section title and state tournament appearance.
“We have a team like we’ve never had before coming back with five Division I players, for sure on it," Northfield coach Tim Torstenson said.
The Raiders return six seniors with varsity experience in libero Emma Torstenson, outside hitter Megan Reilly, outside hitter Rachel Wieber, middle hitter Sylvia Koenig, middle hitter Emma Hodapp and defensive specialist Laura Wellbrock.
Emma Torstenson is committed to play in college at the University of Colorado, Wieber at Southern Utah University and Koenig at Miami (Ohio). Reilly is still uncommitted, but is drawing interest from a number of Division I programs.
Tim Torstenson said rising sophomore Sydney Jaynes, an outside hitter for Northfield who plays libero in club volleyball, is also a Division I caliber player. In addition to Jaynes, middle hitter Annelise Larson and Teagan Timperley both spent last season on the varsity roster as freshmen.
The only anticipated departures for next season will be outside hitter Bronwyn Timperley, who will play at the University of Northern Colorado this fall, and setter Lida King, who will play at Johns Hopkins.
Timperley leaves the void of a two-year captain, multi-year starter and all-conference performer, while King played nearly every point last season while directing Northfield's offense.
Tim Torstenson said he's confident in the depth on the outside to fill in for Timperley, but finding a replacement for King is more of an open question.
"We have some players that can fill that role I think,” he said.
One of those is Teagan Timperley, last year's backup setter who played the bulk of her time as the junior varsity setter, in addition to a couple other younger options. That position might be one of the only spots for a newcomer to snag a varsity spot, however.
“We only lost two players, so there’s not a lot of room for us to make a lot of movements,” Torstenson said.
“I would say our lowest (group) was this last year, since we only had two seniors last year," he continued. "Besides that, it’s pretty consistent I think across the board as far as our numbers go. I don’t know if any grade fluctuates more than another.”
That experience will be tested early in 2020. Northfield will travel to take on Farmington in its first game of the season, before welcoming Eagan — last year's Class AAA runner-up and the 2018 state champion — to Northfield High School for the second game of the season.