State-ranked Mabel-Canton ready to test the best

EPPS/NEWS LEADER Kaylor Soiney, left, and Jordyn Newgard work on serve receive during first week of practice at Mabel-Canton. The Cougars open at home tonight (Aug. 22) versus LeRoy-Ostrander.
Chad Smith

The Mabel-Canton volleyball team has been practicing for over a week as they get set to open the season this week. The Cougars were 30-6 last season and winners of their 21st-straight Southeast Conference title. This year’s edition of the Cougars finished in second place at the elite “Sweet 16 Tournament” in Maple Grove over the summer.

Lonnie Morken, last season’s Class A Coach of the Year award winner, says Mabel-Canton lost three key seniors from a year ago. M-C graduates - Maddy Michels, Lexi Thorson and Hannah Snell - were all multiple-year starters. Snell and Thorson were named All-Southeast Conference players multiple times.

“We do return nine letter winners and 11 total players from last season,” Morken said, “led by junior setter Kenidi McCabe (All-SEC), who recorded her 2,000th set assist last year as just a sophomore. McCabe has 960 career digs and 190 ace serves.

"She’s started since seventh grade and was named First Team All-State last year.

"We will lean on 5-foot-4 senior Payton Danielson (Hardest Worker award winner) and 5-7 Sarina Stortz (All-SEC Honorable Mention, Most Improved Player award winner) even more this season.”

Stortz finished second on the team in kills with 234 and first in total blocks (48). Danielson, who’s lettered since seventh grade and started since eighth grade, finished last year with 210 kills and 315 digs. She also recorded her 1,000th career dig last year.

Other returning starters are 5-4 junior defensive specialist Lauren Wyffels as well as 5-6 junior outside hitter Jordyn Newgard and 5-7 senior middle hitter Avery Davis, last year’s Team Player Award winner, who missed most of her junior year with a torn ACL.

Other returning letter winners are 5-4 junior defensive specialist Kaylor Soiney, 5-4 sophomore outside hitter Molly Lee and 5-4 sophomore right-side player Emily Carolan.  "All three of these players will see a major increase in time on the court this fall,” said Morken.

Two other returners, 5-6 freshman outside hitter Sophie Morken and 5-5 freshman middle hitter Makenzie Kelly, played at the tail end of the season but not enough to letter. Two seventh graders, 5-0 setter Sahara Morken and 5-6 middle hitter Saijal Slafter round out the varsity roster.

Morken has coached for 26 years at Mabel-Canton and currently sports an overall record of 679-130.  The assistant coach is Coranda Vickerman, and the junior high coach is Bethany Moen.

Once again this season, the Cougars will be battling a familiar challenge. “Our team will again be quite small but will be able to defend pretty well, serve tough, and run a pretty fast offense to offset our lack of height,” Morken said.

“Our goals are always set high at Mabel-Canton. We hope to be in contention for the conference and subsection titles once again, and we would love to make it back to the section finals. It won't be easy because we have four of the top eight teams in the state in the preseason Top 10. " Mabel-Canton starts as the No. 6-ranked team in Class A.

“Medford (No. 2), who beat the Cougars in the section title game, will be very good again, especially getting a transfer from Owatonna,” Morken added. “Kenyon-Wanamingo (No. 1) drops down from Class AA and would've been the favorite in their section, if they would've stayed in AA. 

"Caledonia (No. 8) has a ton of firepower returning.  Other top teams in our section will be Faribault Bethlehem Academy and Winona Cotter (in their first year in Class A volleyball).”

Other top teams in the Southeast Conference will be Grand Meadow and Kingsland. He also thinks Spring Grove will be solid, and Lanesboro could be very much improved this season.

Morken said the next two seasons will be the final two of the current three-class volleyball system. In the fall of 2021, Minnesota volleyball will be switching to four classes.

The Cougars start this season on Thursday, Aug. 22, at home against LeRoy-Ostrander. The first road game is the following Tuesday, Aug. 27, when Mabel-Canton heads to Schaeffer Academy. The complete schedule may be found on the color fall sports page in this issue.