After back-to-back Big 9 Conference titles, not even the departures of five starters from last year’s team can dampen the hype surrounding the Northfield volleyball team.
Yes, the Raiders will have to replace all-conference stars in middle Linnea Larson, middle Emma Roethler, outside-hitter Rachel Kelly and setter Nora Lehmkuhl, in addition to starting outside hitter Stephanie Franz and seniors Lily Hollerung and Cora Rezac.
But Northfield has the benefit of returning a pair of all-conference honorees in senior outside hitter Bronwyn Timperley (committed to the University of Northern Colorado) and junior libero Emma Torstenson (committed to the University of Colorado), in addition to all-conference honorable mention outside hitter Rachel Wieber.
That trio will serve as captains for a team that might look a bit young on paper, but will possess plenty of talent.
“A lot of the younger girls are really talented,” Timperley said, “so they’re easy to connect with because they’re willing to put in the effort.”
In addition to the three captains, Northfield also returns two more regulars in senior setter Lida King and junior outside hitter Megan Reilly. Some of the new faces that could fill in for the departed seniors include junior middle Emma Hodapp, junior middle Sylvia Koenig, freshman middle Annelise Larson and freshman middle Sydney Jaynes.
With the first match of the season slated for Aug. 22, when Farmington will visit Northfield High School, there’s not a wealth of time to incorporate the younger players into the fold.
“We’ve got a lot of new girls, so we have to use our practices and preseason really well,” Wieber said
“We know a lot of them from club season, and people we don’t know are already fitting in with the team,” Torstenson added. “We’re already connecting pretty well.”
The early returns have already been solid. Even before the first official practice of the season Monday, Northfield traveled Aug. 3 to Burnsville for the Breakdown Sports Elite Invite. The Raiders finished in a tie for fifth out of 30 entrants.
Northfield won its pool with a 25-17, 25-23 win against Mounds View, a 25-18, 25-19 win against Kenyon-Wanamingo (No. 1 in Class A) and a 25-23, 20-25, 15-13 win against Southwest Minnesota Christian (No. 9 in Class AA).
The Raiders then fell in the quarterfinals 25-21, 17-25, 15-11 against eventual champion Stewartville (No. 1 in Class AA). Also in the tournament field were Class AAA No. 5-ranked East Ridge and Class AAA No. 8 Lakeville North.
“It helps that a lot of us play in the offseason, too,” Wieber said, “so we can come in and just be ready to play.”
One of the major goals for the year is to claim the conference title for a third year in a row after the Raiders stormed to a perfect 11-0 mark in the Big 9 last year, with only one match (vs. Rochester Century) requiring a decisive fifth set.
Outside of that 3-2 win against Rochester Century, Northfield didn’t lose a single set in conference play last year.
What comes after a potential third consecutive conference title might be just as, if not more important, for the Raiders, though.
Two years ago, Northfield fell 3-0 in the Section 1AAA final to Lakeville North, which went on to win the state title. Last year, Northfield won the first two sets against Lakeville South in the Section 1AAA semifinals before the Cougars won the next three.
Lakeville South then topped Lakeville North in the section final and eventually snagged third place at state.
This year, Lakeville South opens as the second-ranked team in the state, while Lakeville North slots in at eighth and Northfield is outside the top 10. Northfield coach Tim Torstenson said he fully believes his team is equal to if not greater than its section foes to the north, while the Raider captains are not yet concerned with what might transpire at the end of October.
“Every day at practice we’re working to beat any team,” Emma Torstenson said. “It’s not just (Lakeville South and Lakeville North). Every time we step on the court we have to think we’re going to win against no matter what team that is. That’s our mindset.”