MARSHALL - The Molten Southwest Minnesota Challenge is the largest volleyball tournament in the state and the competition on Friday and Saturday could be some of the highest caliber volleyball around.
"The tournament takes a tremendous amount of work to pull off," said Marshall head coach Dan Westby. "But it's worth it and it's a lot of fun. It feels good to host what we feel is one of the best tournaments in the state."
The 32-team Challenge is thriving in its fourth year of existence and many teams are on the waiting list to be included in the competition.
"I think we have a good reputation," Westby said. "We have a number of good teams coming. It's certainly nice to have the teams from the metro area. The teams from North Dakota add quite a bit too. We also have some local teams, so we have a little bit of everything."
One team, Skutt Catholic, is from Nebraska. Bismarck Century, West Fargo and Fargo South hail from North Dakota.
"We give all the teams a chance to come back every year," said Westby. "We ask that they decide by Christmas. We do still have a waiting list and we had to turn a few teams away this year."
The format this year is the same, with each team playing two games on Friday and three on Saturday.
In past years, the action was divided between two locations, the Marshall High School and Southwest Minnesota State's R/A Facility. But with renovations being made at the R/A Facility, three sites are expected to be utilized, with MHS, SMSU's PE Gym and Marshall Middle School.
Regardless of where teams hit the court, one thing is certain - the tournament includes some of the top teams in all three classes of volleyball.
"It's one of the better tournaments I think," said Westby. "We're fortunate in the fact that we play in the three best ones. We host our own and then we attend the Apple Valley and Lakeville North tournaments."
Five area teams will take part in the Challenge this year, including Marshall. The Tigers will open the tournament against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton at 5 p.m. Friday.
"Playing good teams will certainly help come playoff time," Westby said. "It helps to put our kids in those situations so they know they have to compete hard each time out. We're okay with a couple of losses as long as we compete hard."
For the past three year, Marshall has finished as the runner-up in the Challenge. Last year, Marshall finished second after losing to St. Michael-Albertville in the championship.
"Our kids have certainly talked about wanting to win it this year," said Westby. "It would be nice. But every time we've been in the finals, we have felt good about the way we've played. As long as we compete hard, we're satisfied."
The Tigers are currently ranked No. 1 in the Class AA polls, so opponents will come out firing against them. Other standout Class AA schools competing at the tournament are No. 2 Hibbing and No. 8 Hutchinson.
While No. 2 Minneota is the lone ranked Class A team scheduled to take the floor at the Challenge, four state ranked Class AAA teams will be in attendance. Seeking the title will be No. 3 Eastview, No. 4 Stillwater, No. 6 Wayzata and No. 8 Andover.
Minneota will face Litchfield in the opening round of competition. Last year, the Vikings took fifth place after defeating Lakeville North in the final match. Yellow Medicine East is scheduled to play Hutchinson at 5 p.m., while Lincoln HI will open with Waconia.
"One of the best things about this tournament is that we have a lot of community support," said Westby. "We have over 20 sponsors from the community and we really appreciate what they do for us."
In 2008, the Southwest Minnesota Challenge was renamed the Molten Southwest Minnesota Challenge because of their sponsorship.
"They give volleyballs to all the teams," Westby said. "It's great for the teams."
While the Challenge requires a great deal of preparation and organization, Westby believes the payoff is worth it.
According to Westby, 26 registered officials have been lined up to take charge of matches.