JCC, Windom hoping to stay sharp in Southwest Conference volleyball
Hardly a year begins in Southwest Conference volleyball when a team from the northern tier isn't looming menacingly above the rest.
History has decided that the Marshall Tigers simply must be accounted for. Not only the conference power for decades, the Tigers have also been a powerful force in the state for decades.
They were again in 2012, making their 24th appearance in the state tournament. Last year, they not only appeared; they won the championship, beating Caledonia in the Class AA finals three games to one.
Despite the Tigers' power, however, they did not obscure other outstanding conference teams in 2012. Jackson County Central went 25-6, winning the AA Section 3 South Division Tournament before getting eliminated by (you guessed it) Marshall. Windom Area went 23-8, finally falling to JCC in the South Division title game. Worthington produced a strong 22-11 record led by Brooke Henning, a first-team Daily Globe All-Area outside hitter.
Worthington's 2013 prospects were reviewed in the Tuesday edition of the Daily Globe. Here's a preview of the other teams in the Daily Globe coverage area:
Jackson County Central
The Huskies will have to do without their outstanding setter of a year ago, Michelle Van Epps, who graduated after landing on the Class AA All-State team and being named captain of the Daily Globe first-team All-Area squad.
Van Epps, daughter of head coach Teresa Van Epps, ranked fourth in the state in assists. Third-team All-Area hitter Jasmine Erickson has also graduated.
But JCC does return junior outside hitter Kaylee Burmeister, a second-team All-Area selection, and a host of other talented players. Among them are senior setter Shelby Benson, senior outside hitter Kenna Bannister, junior Libero Catherine Nasby, junior middle hitter Sarah Brandt, and sophomore hitter Sydney Neyborg. Sydney Eddy, who missed last season due to injury, is also vying for playing time.
The girls want to learn, said coach Van Epps. "Because of that, I think they're going to progress and get better throughout the season."
The Huskies have good height. Three of the returnees are six-foot tall or better. Van Epps expects a team that hits very well. Several of the players can play multiple positions. They are great leaders and they adapt quickly, the coach said.
"I definitely know we're going to be competitive. We will be a strong team, we're just going to be young," said Van Epps.
Veteran Eagles head coach Ron Wendorff is confident, but wary, when assessing the upcoming season.
"We've got some experience in some spots. But we've got a lot of inexperience in some other spots," he said.
Windom Area graduated 2012 standout hitters Holly Larson and Halli Tasler.
Seven letter winners return. Seniors include right side hitter Rachel Sorensen, outside hitter Kelsey Hanefeld, defensive specialist Hannah Kloss, setter Miki Bolin and right side hitter Megan Theesfeld. Juniors are middle hitter Michaela Hacker and Libero Jasmine Carlson.
Hanefeld is in her third year as a starter. Carlson played some varsity volleyball as an eighth grader.
"We're not going to overpower a lot of people. We're not going to be very tall," Wendorff said. "We really think we're going to have to be a very strong defense. The other things we think we'll have to do, we'll have to serve the ball hard and serve it to our spots."
The Arrows will return 10 letter winners from a sub-.500 team. Five are seniors and five are juniors, and four of them have been starters.
Those include senior Libero Brittany Evans, senior setter Kelly Nettik, senior left hitter Megan Remund and junior left hitter Taylor Kruisselbrink.
Head coach Dave Dulas says Remund and Kruisselbrink are key to the Arrows' offense.
"We want to be above .500 this year," Dulas said. "We believe we can win four of our conference games and hopefully to further into the sections than we did last year."
Pipestone Area posted a 3-3 conference record in 2012 and won its first postseason match prior to losing to JCC.
Dulas says the 2013 unit is a positive-minded, hard-working group. They're a little uncertain right now in the middle, but there is a strong group of young players coming up.
"We'll need to be a strong defensive team, for sure," said the coach, who added, "I'm excited about this year and I'm excited about our future."
The Cardinals were on the tail end of last season's Southwest Conference chase. Marshall finished 6-0, JCC 5-1, Windom Area 4-2, Pipestone Area 3-3, Worthington 2-4, Redwood Valley 1-5 and Luverne 0-6.
"I am expecting improvement," said LHS head coach Renee Reuter. "I think we will be a consistent team in hitting and defense."
Eight letter winners return. They are seniors Ellen Dahl (outside hitter), Ashley Olson (setter), Paige Baker (hitter), Erica DeBoer (Libero), Amanda Barnhart (middle hitter), Ashlinn Curtis (setter), Jada Hoven (middle hitter), and junior outside hitter Lexi Rust.
Barnhart and Hoven are both 5-11, but the remainder of the team is described as having average height.
Dahl was honorable mention all-conference last season.