Sep. 22—With youth being served as much as it is at Chatfield, what might the Gophers evolve into?
It figures to be something great. But the truth is, with freshman setter Harper Goldsmith and eighth-grade libero Cora Bicknese already two of Chatfield's top two players, the Gophers are darned good right now.
Chatfield entered this week 12-1 overall, including 5-0 in the Three Rivers Conference.
The team's top player is likely sophomore outside hitter Jaelyn LaPlante, who routinely delivers 15-kills matches. But not far behind are those two youngsters, Goldsmith and Bicknese.
This is Goldsmith's second year on the varsity, having seen spot duty last year. It's Bicknese's first varsity season.
Still, they're playing like veterans.
"Harper doesn't get rattled," third-year Chatfield coach Molly Orte-Thomas said. "Even last year, I saw a calmness to her style. But I've seen big improvements in her abilities. She's able to make smart choices based on what the other team is doing. Plus, she's really grown into a leadership role."
Bicknese, strictly a junior varsity player a year ago as a seventh-grader, has beautifully assumed the role of libero. Like Goldsmith, she's athletic and with little hesitancy to her.
"She is calling out the shots and seeing the whole court," Orte-Thomas said. "She can track the ball better than so many players. She follows it and anticipates what's coming next. She helps us run a fast offense."
While Goldsmith and Bicknese are talented and driven, what also has Orte-Thomas excited is that there's another youngster on this team who's making a big impact. That is freshman Trindy Barkeim, a 5-foot-7 outside hitter and also a starter. On Monday, Sept. 19, Barkeim came through with 19 kills and eight digs in a win over one Pine Island.
The future looks bright for the Gophers. So does the present.
Mabel-Canton and Spring Grove, two of the top teams in Class A, got their first up-close look at each other on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
The No. 5-ranked Cougars and No. 10-ranked Lions — whose schools are just 8 miles apart — matched up in front of a standing-room only crowd inside the Spring Grove gymnasium. Both entered unbeaten.
"It was a packed gym with people standing on the sidelines," M-C coach Lonnie Morken said. "It was one of those high school experiences that you dream about."
Spring Grove, with possibly its best and tallest team ever (5-foot-10, 5-10, 5-11 across its front line), appreciated how the match started. The Lions grabbed the first set, finally emerging with a 26-24 win. But it was Mabel-Canton that ended the night feeling best. After making some defensive adjustments, it rolled the next three sets, winning 25-11, 25-12, 25-13 to walk away the winner and make an early claim toward its 25th straight Southeast Conference title.
The Cougars got big stuff from middle hitters Kinley Soiney and Saijal Slafter, with 17 and 11 kills, respectively. Setter Sahara Morken did her usual thing, tallying 43 assists. M-C's best player, Sophie Morken, finished with nine kills. Two other big factors were the Cougars' 10 service aces and eight blocks.
"We sometimes don't have eight blocks in a season," Lonnie Morken joked.
As good as the win felt to Morken and his players, he didn't want to get too carried away about it. The Cougars have much bigger goals than winning regular-season matches.
"This was not going to be the highlight of our season if we won or our lowlight of the season if we lost," said Morken, whose team has just two seniors and no juniors, but still has experience among its young players. "We want to keep this win in perspective. And we also know that Spring Grove is good enough to do to us what we did to them the next time we meet, in Mabel."
Falon Hepola, Cannon Falls
It was both what she did and who she did it against that stood out so much with Hepola. The freshman setter had 41 assists and 11 digs in the Bombers' impressive 3-1 win over No. 4-ranked Zumbrota-Mazeppa (Class AA) on Sept. 8. Cannon Falls is ranked fifth.
Harper Goldsmith, Chatfield
A freshman, Goldsmith had 30 assists, 11 digs, 4 kills, 2 blocks and 2 aces on Sept. 13 in Chatfield's 3-0 win over Fillmore Central. Goldsmith has been guiding what is among the top teams in the area.
Rylee Nelson, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
It was in a losing effort to Cannon Falls on Sept. 8, but goodness, the Cougars senior certainly did her part: 16 kills, 10 assists, 22 digs, 8 blocks. Nelson continues to be among the top handful of most productive players in southeastern Minnesota.
Ileana Deangel-Edelbach, Wabasha-Kellogg
Deangel-Edelbach led the comeback of comebacks on Sept. 13, lifting the Falcons from the dead after St. Charles had taken a 2-0 sets lead. Deangel-Edelbach totaled 22 assists, 31 digs, 3 kills and 3 aces.
Ellie Ask, Kasson-Mantorville
The Tigers couldn't have "Ask(ed)" much more from their junior pin hitter. Ask finished with a crucial 17 kills as No. 2 ranked K-M beat No. 4 Stewartville in a 3-2 marathon on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
(Editor's note: These rankings are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in.)
The Panthers still haven't dropped a match. That's a pretty good way to stay right where they were the first time we did these rankings, at No. 1. Century is not only unbeaten, it has dropped just one set all season.
Ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, the KoMets played No. 4 Stewartville on Tuesday and walked away a dramatic 3-2 winner. "Ask and K-M coach Larry Hegerle has received" from junior pin hitter Ellie Ask. That was never more true than in the match with the Tigers, Ask finishing with a crucial 17 kills. Senior pin hitter Ella Babcock has also been terrific for the KoMets, with so much speed and energy.
Mayo has lost twice this season, once to Shakopee and once to No. 3-ranked Willmar (Class AAA). Other than that, the Spartans have blitzed everybody else, including state-ranked teams Stewartville and Faribault Bethlehem Academy.
Here is another unbeaten collection. And the past week, there has been some proving done by the Cougars. First there was a win over sturdy Class AAA team Hutchinson, then another one over the other most powerful team in the Southeast Conference this season, Spring Grove.
The Knights just missed against one of the top teams in Class A, Bethlehem Academy, on Sept. 13. They grabbed a 2-1 lead against the No. 5-ranked Cardinals before losing 3-2. K-W has been getting great stuff from sophomore setter Carmen Nerison and junior middle hitter Norah Rechtzigel.
6. Cannon Falls
Since losing 3-2 to No. 4 ranked Stewartville (Class AAA), the Class AA Bombers have reeled off 10 straight wins. That includes beating Class AA ranked teams Zumbrota-Mazeppa 3-1 and Caledonia 3-1. Springy 6-foot sophomore Madison Burr sure knows how to throw a "block" party and freshman Falon Hepola is one of the best young setters around.
The Cougars are the highest state-ranked team out of Section 1AA, at No. 4. Z-M might have the best overall player in southeastern Minnesota, Rylee Nelson. No one stuffs a box score like she does. There have been two losses for Z-M, to unranked Centennial and to No. 5 Cannon Falls. There was also a tasty 3-1 win over Stewartville to begin the season. A highly anticipated match at Kasson-Mantorville awaits on Oct. 4.
All of the Warriors' losses have been forgivable, to mammoth school Eden Prairie, to No. 4 Stewartville (Class AAA) and to No. 5 Cannon Falls (Class AA). The Warriors have some daunting tests ahead of them, though, at No. 6 Byron (Class AAA) on Sept. 29 and at Chatfield on Oct. 6. Caledonia and Chatfield are the two obviously best teams in the Three Rivers Conference.
The Gophers aren't state ranked, which is a puzzle. They have just one loss, to No. 6 Byron (Class AAA), a team it also beat once this season. Chatfield has the most promising trio of young players in southeastern Minnesota in eighth-grader Cora Bicknese and freshmen Harper Goldsmith and Trindy Barkeim.
What an incredibly potent conference that Byron is a part of, the Hiawatha Valley League. The HVL has three teams ranked in the top 10 in Class AAA, No. 2 Kasson-Mantorville, No. 4 Stewartville and No. 5 Byron, and two in the top 10 in Class AA — No. 4 Zumbrota-Mazeppa and No. 5 Cannon Falls. The Bears are going to really get tested in the next week, as they take on Kasson-Mantorville on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and Caledonia on Thursday, Sept. 29.