The Mabel-Canton volleyball players surround their coach, Lonnie Morken, during a time out at Saturday’s subsection semifinal game against Goodhue. The Cougars finished its regular season with a 12-0 conference record and the Southeast Conference title.  BILL BENTSON/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
The Mabel-Canton volleyball players surround their coach, Lonnie Morken, during a time out at Saturday’s subsection semifinal game against Goodhue. The Cougars finished its regular season with a 12-0 conference record and the Southeast Conference title. BILL BENTSON/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
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At volleyball tourney time, it all comes down to one match. All the work, all the effort, all the hopes of two small schools that just happen to be neighbors come together in one monster game.

In what many consider to be the best Class A volleyball section in Minnesota, the second-ranked team in the state Fillmore Central will meet the seventh-ranked Mabel-Canton Cougars (according to Oct. 21 coaches' poll) for the 1A East Sub-Section Championship. Tip off is Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mayo Civic Center.

Eight sections will send champs to St. Paul to contend for all the marbles. But four of the current top 10 teams in the state hail from Section 1, including 2012 State Champion Bethlehem Academy, a team that the Fillmore County winner could face in the section finals. That match would be the last step before heading to the state tourney.

In addition to the four top seeds in the tournament this year, Section 1A also includes a couple of other teams (Goodhue and Wabasha-Kellogg) that commonly receive votes for inclusion in the top 10.

Fillmore Central has been ranked first or second in the Coaches Association poll since winning the Burnsville Showcase Tournament in September, and excitement over their success is palpable in the community. M-C has been ranked from number five to number seven all season.

The rivalry is nothing new, but the Southeast Conference Cougars and Three Rivers Conference Falcons don't play each other all that often. In last year's Sub-Section Semifinals, M-C squeaked out a 3-2 set win over FC, 31-33, 20-25, 25-18, 25-14, 16-14.

Mabel-Canton has won 10 subsection championships since 1992. They won the section in 2000 and 2001. Last year, Wabasha-Kellogg sent M-C packing in the subsection championship.

Fillmore Central has not played in the subsection finals volleyball game since 2007.

"It's funny that we are so close and don't normally play each other..." M-C Coach Lonnie Morken said recently. "This is exciting with the two communities being so close."

He called the Falcons "a veteran team" with plenty of talent beyond senior outside hitter Taylor Case. "She's a handful for everybody," Morken noted. "Rarely do you find that combination of size and ball control... and rarely do you find a girl as tall as she is who can move and play as good on defense (serve receive) as she does."

In spite of any reports to the contrary, Fillmore Central is certainly not over-rated. At 31-2, the Falcons' only losses this season have come from much larger (AAA) Rosemount.

Although they hold the lower seed, Mabel-Canton boasts a solid front line of five seniors, led by multiple-year All-State outside hitter Belle Sand.

"We will have to play real well to beat them or they will have to play real well to beat us," Morken said.

There won't be any "tricks" to winning in Rochester, but there will be "treats" for one school. And for Fillmore County, one team is assured a chance to play for the section crown.