WILLMAR — When Traci Grussing retired for the second time last winter as Willmar’s head volleyball coach, there was some question about what was next for the Cardinals.

Grussing, one of the state’s best coaches, built Willmar into a state-ranked team and one of the best clubs in the Central Lakes Conference, culminating with a CLC title last November.

But don’t worry. The cupboard’s far from bare.

Tom Elliott
Tom Elliott

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Willmar, led by 2015 Cardinal graduate Leah Ruter, is expected to be one of the top teams in the state … again. Willmar opens Thursday at Marshall. Marshall is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA. Willmar is third. Hutchinson, ranked fourth, is also in the Cardinals’ section.

With a four-class system in place this fall, Willmar’s looking like a potential contender for state, though it won’t be easy.

The West Central Tribune’s annual volleyball special section comes out in Saturday’s print edition. With Tribune sports writers Joe Brown and Matthew Curry doing a lot of heavy-lifting, here are a few items gleaned from the 20-page section.

  • In senior Lydia Larson, Willmar will have one of the state’s best setters. In junior Sydney Schnichels, the Cardinals also have one of the best players in the Class of 2023. Willmar is clearly a team to watch his fall.

  • In Class A, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa should be really good. The Jaguars are ranked 10th in the preseason and will be the team to beat in the Central Minnesota Conference

  • Expect Dawson-Boyd to be improved. The Blackjacks went 0-12 last year, but have everyone back and should be a tougher match for everyone in the Camden Conference, which will be quite strong again. Minneota and Canby are both state-ranked and Central Minnesota Christian should be very good.

Willmar middle hitter Mackenzie Knofczynski collects a kill during a Central Lakes Conference match against Rocori on Nov. 10, 2020 from Willmar High School. 

Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune
Willmar middle hitter Mackenzie Knofczynski collects a kill during a Central Lakes Conference match against Rocori on Nov. 10, 2020 from Willmar High School. Patrick Bernadeau / West Central Tribune

Volleyball polls:

Here are the preseason polls released by the Minnesota State Volleyball Coaches Association:

  • Class AAAA — 1. Wayzata; 2. Eagan; 3. East Ridge; 4. Lakeville North; 5. Lakeville South; 6. Shakopee; 7. Chaska; 8. Bloomington Jefferson; 9. Northfield; 10. Prior Lake.

  • Class AAA — 1. Marshall; 2. Stewartville; 3. Willmar; 4. Hutchinson; 5. New Prague; 6. Kasson-Mantorville; 7. Byron; 8. Monticello; 9. Holy Angels; 10. Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

  • Class AA — 1. Southwest Christian; 2. Watertown-Mayer; 3. Maple Lake; 4. Cannon Falls; 5. Jackson County Central; 6. Concordia Academy; 7. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown; 8. Pequot Lakes; 9. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton; 10. Annandale.

  • Class A — 1. Mayer Lutheran; 2. Minneota; 3. Canby; 4. Mable-Canton; 5. Bethlehem Academy; 6. Henning; 7. Breckenridge; 8. Legacy Christian; 9. Cleveland; 10. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa

Baseball picks

Last week’s column included the annual picking of the top four teams in the state Class C amateur baseball tournament. Those picks usually are looking poor by Week 2 of the three-week, 48-team, single-elimination affair.

But after the first round of 16 games at Waconia, Hamburg and Chaska, there’s just one thing to say.

So far, so good.

Quad 1 favorite Sobieski won. Richmond, the upset special, did not win, losing 4-3 to the Dumont Saints. The Skis edged a good Windom Pirates team, 2-0, to set up a matchup with the Isanti Redbirds on Sunday. Sartell remains a sleeper after getting past another tough squad, the Hutchinson Huskies, 5-1. And Loretto, with a first-round bye, remains a dark horse.

In Quad II, Waconia continues to be the favorite, simply because the Lakers had a first-round bye. The Foley Lumberjacks won, making them a viable dark horse when they play Waconia at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Waconia. Maple Lake beat the Milroy Irish, 4-0, to have that predicted upset happen. And the Jordan Brewers, who have yet to play, remain a sleeper. They get Maple Lake on Saturday in Chaska.

In Quad III, the Avon Lakers remain the favorite. Bemidji, my dark horse, beat New Prague 12-3. The Eagle Lake Expos, another upset special, earned a 2-1 victory over Cannon Falls. Nice.

The Milroy Yankees remain a sleeper after a first-round bye as Section 4A champions and will have to deal with Bemidji on Sunday in Waconia.

In Quad IV, the St. Patrick Irish are still the favorite after watching everyone else play. The Watkins Clippers also remain a dark horse after a first-round bye. Young America is still in the running for its upset over Region 9C champion Ortonville after winning 5-1 over the St. Clair Wood Ducks. And, the St. Martin Martins remain sleepers after a first-round bye.