In the 2011 volleyball season, the Marshall area was filled with state champions, All-State, All-Tournament and All-Conference players.
For Minneota, which won the Camden Conference after losing 10 players from last year's team, made their third straight state appearance and took third place in Class A for the second straight year.
Camden Conference foe Canby finished the regular season with the No. 2 ranking in Class A with a 27-5 record, including 9-1 in the Camden Conference. The Lancers also won the Class A Showcase tournament in Arden Hills, defeating six teams in two days.
But when it was all said and done, the 2011 season belonged to the Marshall Tigers.
Marshall won its fourth state title after they qualified for the state tournament for the 11th straight year and 23rd appearance overall, tying Hibbing for the state record.
The Tigers, who were ranked No. 1 in Class AA since Sept. 21, clinched a state title under newly-inducted Hall of Fame head coach Dan Westby after defeating Stewartville 3-1 on Nov. 12. Prior to the championship match, the Tigers defeated the Esko Eskomos in three sets, and Wadena-Deer Creek, the 2010 state champions, in four sets. Marshall lead in All-Area selections, with three first-teamers and five players total earning the All-Area distinction.
And with her work in all facts of the game, Marshall senior captain Morgan McKittrick is the 2011 Independent Player of the Year. The 5-foot-9 outside hitter finished with 339 kills, 379 digs, 31 ace blocks and was 424-for-440 serving with 40 aces in 34 matches, playing a vital part in helping the Tigers secure the Class AA state title. Saving her best for last, McKittrick finished with 24 digs and 21 digs in the state championship game against Stewartville. Earning All-State honors, McKittrick has played in four state tournaments, winning state titles in 2009 and 2011. She also earned All-Southwest Conference, All-State and All-Tournament honors in 2011.
Now, here is a look at the All-Area first and second teams (listed alphabetically).
n Marshall sophomore outside hitter Kenzie Beekman was the Tigers' most feared hitter in 2011. Listed at 5-10, Beekman finished with 487 kills, swinging for a .294 hitting percentage. In the state tournament, Beekman finished with 62 kills, including 24 in the semifinal win over Wadena-Deer Creek.
Along with McKittrick, Beekman was an All-Southwest Conference selection and a Class AA All-State and All-Tournament selection.
n Helping the Tigers distribute the ball in their 6-2 offense was sophomore setter Sydney Griffin. Griffin led Marshall in set assists (645) and ace serves (46), while also finishing with 155 kills, 203 digs and 43 ace blocks. In the Tigers' Section 3A-North championship game against Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Griffin surpassed 1,000 career set assists.
Griffin finished 2011 as an All-SWC and All-Tournament pick, and was selected as an All-State honorable mention.
n Minneota senior libero Kelsey Hennen led an young Vikings team to a third straight state tournament with her phenomenal play in the back row. The area's leader in digs, Hennen finished with 630 digs in 35 matches, averaging 18 digs per match. She also had 29 ace serves, going 376 of 394 from the service line.
Hennen, who will play volleyball collegiately at Southwest Minnesota State, earned All-Camden Conference, All-Tournament and All-State nods.
n Canby senior Riley Nordgaard cemented her reputation as one of the area's most feared hitters after leading the area in kills during the regular season. Finishing with 536 kills in 32 matches, the 5-10 outside hitter averaged 5.9 kills per set en route to being named the Class A Player of the Year by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association.
Picked as an All-State selection and the Camden Conference South's Most Valuable Player, Nordgaard also had 298 digs and 51 1/2 blocks. Playing basketball at Augustana College next season, Nordgaard finishes her six-year varsity career with 1,622 kills, 184 ace serves, 1,726 digs and 97 blocks.
n Minneota showcased one of the best young players in the area with middle hitter Taylor Reiss. Only a freshman, the 5-10 Reiss overpowered opponents to the tune of 474 kills and 109 ace blocks in 35 matches.
Playing at state for the first time, the All-Camden and All-Tournament pick tallied 68 kills in three matches in the Class A tournament, including 29 in a five-set loss to Nevis in the semifinals. Against Ada-Borup in the third-place game, Reiss had a .594 hitting percentage with 19 kills and zero errors.
n Nordgaard's partner-in-crime at Canby, senior setter Casie Baer was one of the area's best playmakers with 821 set assists in 2011. Also getting in on the attack, the All-Camden selection finished with 152 kills, and added 43 ace serves, 27 ace blocks and 204 digs. An All-State honorable mention, the 2009 Independent Player of the Year will head to Minnesota State-Moorhead next year after completing her Lancer career with 3,567 set assists.
n One of the best blockers in the Marshall area was Yellow Medicine East middle hitter Emily Baker. Standing at 6-0, the Sting senior is a three-time All-West Central Conference selection and finished with 58 ace blocks, 226 kills and 108 digs in 23 matches. YME finished 8-4 in the WCC-South, 13-14 overall.
n The only other senior on Marshall aside from McKittrick, senior middle hitter/setter Jessica Baker picked up her second state title in 2011. An All-SWC pick, Baker finished the season with 217 kills, 301 set assists, 178 digs and a team-high 61 ace blocks. Playing as one of the Tigers' main attackers in the Class AA championship, Baker finished with 12 kills, 12 set assists and nine digs against Stewartville.
n Leading a trio of seniors at Tracy-Milroy-Balaton was 5-6 middle hitter Kate Johnston. With team highs in kills (226) and blocks (36), Johnston was named to the All-Camden Conference team. She also had 204 digs and completed 96.8 percent of her serves on the season. With Johnston helping to lead the way, the Panthers reached the Section 3A finals, going 16-16 overall (6-4 Camden Conference).
n Red Rock Central senior middle hitter Klarissa Larsen was one of the area's most imposing middles, averaging 3.9 kills per set (328 kills total). Standing at 6-0, Larsen also finished with 39 blocks (16 solo), 119 digs and 17 ace serves. An All-Red Rock Conference pick, Larsen helped the Falcons to a 8-3 finish in the conference, 19-9 overall, and a spot in the Section 3A-South finals.
n Rounding out the second team is Minneota sophomore setter Megan Larson. Replacing last year's Independent Player of the Year, Taya Kockelman, Larson finished with 981 set assists in 35 games. She was also the Vikings' top server with 38 aces on 389 of 413 serving. Larson also added 23 ace blocks and 246 digs.