Cougars excel in state ‘Sweet 16’ volleyball tournament

Mabel-Canton players who placed second in a high-level, 16-team state volleyball tournament are, in front from left, Kaylor Soiney, Kenidi McCabe, Payton Danielson, Emily McCabe and Molly Lee. In back are Lauren Wyffels, Sarina Stortz, Jordyn Newgard, Abby Torgerson, Makenzie Kelly, Sophie Morken and coach Lonnie Morken.
Chad Smith

The Mabel-Canton volleyball team got a jump-start on season preparations by playing in the first-ever Breakdown Sweet 16 Volleyball Tournament in Maple Grove. Sixteen of the top Class A programs went head-to-head at the Minnesota Select Volleyball Facility on Saturday, July 27. Cougar head coach Lonnie Morken said the team played some great volleyball and finished up in second place.

“We opened up the tournament with a match against Pine River-Backus and won 25-18, 25-14,” Morken said. “That put us into the quarterfinals against a very tall and experienced team from Mayer Lutheran.

“They were 6-foot-2 and 6-1 in the middle,” he added, “and they had a couple of other attackers that each stood six feet tall. They finished fifth in the state last year and brought back almost the entire roster. However, we played well and won 25-20, 25-21.”

Next up was a semi-final battle against Kenyon-Wanamingo, which dropped down into Class A volleyball this season after going to the Class AA State Tournament in 2016 and 2017 and losing the section finals last year in AA. The Knights are playing in Section 1A this year as well.

“They returned just about the entire team from last season,” Morken said. “We played our most flawless volleyball of the tournament during the first set, which we won 25-10. We dropped the second set 25-18 before jumping out to a quick start and winning the third set and the match 15-8.”

Morken said Mabel-Canton then met a familiar foe in the championship match. Medford had eliminated the Cougars in last season’s Section 1A final, so the Cougars had a lot to play for against a veteran Tiger team.

“The Tigers returned almost their entire roster from last season, plus they picked up a great transfer from Owatonna,” he said. “We came out and played a tremendous first set, winning 25-18. We lost the second set 25-17 and dropped the third by a score of 15-11.

“Overall, it was a great tournament,” Morken added. “All of the other teams had their top players present…Three of the top four teams at the Sweet 16 Tournament are from Section 1A. It appears we’re setting up for another year of high-level volleyball in our section.”