MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Xcel Energy Center will be a busy place later this week in as the State Volleyball Tournament gets underway Thursday in St. Paul.

A total of 24 teams spread among three classes will be competing for the ultimate goal: Calling themselves state champions on Saturday. This year, there are plenty of familiar faces that will be in downtown St. Paul as the defending state champions in all three classes are back.

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The format of the tournament got a bit of a facelift also as now the top five teams are seeded and the top three teams get their opponent by a random draw. The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds get paired against each other. Last year, the top four teams in each class were seeded and their opponents were determined by a random draw.

Eden Prairie is back to defend its state title in Class AAA with a 26-4 mark. The Eagles are the No. 3 seed in the bracket with Lakeville North (29-1) getting the top seed, Blaine (29-1) receiving the No. 2 seed, Shakopee (18-12) grabbing the No. 4 seed and Roseville (25-5) getting seeded No. 5.

Based on Lakeville North’s record and the quality of opponents on its schedule, the Panthers are the team to beat in Class AAA. Their only loss was to Burnsville by forfeit.

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In Class AA, Marshall (26-5) is back with the top seed after winning the state title last year. Caledonia (25-6) is the No. 2 seed, Sauk Centre (31-0) is the No. 3 seed, Belle Plaine (25-7) got the No. 4 seed and Thief River Falls (26-5) earned the No. 5 seed.

Marshall should be considered the heavy favorite this year. All five of their losses over the course of the fall came to teams ranked in the top 10 in Class AAA.

In Class A, Bethlehem Academy in Faribault is the clear-cut favorite until somebody knocks them off. The Cardinals (23-7) are the No. 1 seed and breezed to a state title last year after a five-set battle in their quarterfinal match. Six of their seven losses on the season are to ranked teams in bigger classes.

Minneota (29-3) is the No. 2 seed, Southwest Christian (23-10) is the No. 3 seed, Nevis (24-8-1) is the No. 4 seed and Win-E-Mac (27-6) rounds out the top five teams. If the brackets play out right, Minneota would face Bethlehem Academy for the state title. Last year, Bethlehem Academy beat Nevis in the state championship match.

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There should be plenty of great volleyball action this week at Xcel Energy Center. The tournament starts Thursday morning in St. Paul.