MARSHALL - Returning champion Chaska will attempt to defend its title at the 2014 Molten Southwest Minnesota Volleyball Challenge today and Saturday at Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State University.
Dan Westby, tournament director and coach for the Marshall Tigers, noted that the Southwest Challenge began as the largest volleyball tournament in the history of Minnesota high school volleyball.
"In fact, this 32-team event is larger than the current Minnesota State Tournament," Westby said. "Teams from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota will compete at MHS and SMSU this weekend."
Currently ranked No. 3 by the Associated Press poll for Minnesota girls volleyball, Class AAA Chaska is one of eight top-10 ranked teams competing at the 9th annual tournament.
"We're very excited about the tournament field we've been able to assemble this year," Westby said. "Volleyball in Minnesota has continued to get better and better and our tournament reflects that. The teams competing this year have over 165 state tournament appearances between them."
Along with Chaska, Class AAA tournament participants include No. 7 Lakeville South and No. 10 Waconia. Lakeville North, the 2013 Challenge runner-up, is not currently ranked, though Wayzata, Champlin Park and Owatonna received votes in the latest poll.
Class AA teams include host team Marshall, ranked No. 1 after completing a three-peat as state champions last year, and No. 4 Kasson-Mantorville. The Tigers finished third at the 2013 Southwest Challenge.
Three top-10 teams in Class A will also be competing for the title, with No. 2 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, No. 3 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and No. 5 Minneota. Thirteenth-ranked Heron Lake-Okabena also factors into the mix.
"If you look at the field, there are a number of the top teams from all three classes in Minnesota," Westby said. "The team that comes out on top in this thing is the team that puts together five quality matches over the two days. It's really a daunting task to win top honors here."
Out-of-state teams include Sioux Falls-Roosevelt, West Fargo, N.D. and Jamestown, N.D.
"Jamestown won their first-ever state title last fall, winning top honors in Class A (large school) in North Dakota," Westby said.
Area teams include Marshall, TMB, Canby, Minneota, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton and Yellow Medicine East.
Other Minnesota Class AAA teams competing are Andover, Bloomington Jefferson, Burnsville, East Ridge, Eastview, Hutchinson, New Prague, Northfield, St. Michael-Albertville and Totino-Grace,while other Class AA competitors include Fergus Falls, LeSueur-Henderson and Perham.
Each of the 32 teams will play two matches today and three on Saturday. The eight teams that go 2-0 on Day 1 will be in the championship bracket and will vie for the tournament title.
"This part of the country is known for producing high-caliber volleyball teams and a number of outstanding players," Westby said. "If you're a volleyball fan, you'll want to take in this event. There isn't a better early-bird tournament in nation."