Minn. West Lady Jays pushing themselves to excel
WORTHINGTON — A coach’s job is to push players past their comfort levels, to challenge them to give all they’ve got.
Minnesota West volleyball coach Marie Johnson is fortunate this year. She’s getting extra help to push her players to excel — from the players themselves.
“The goal is definitely to make it to regionals, and then working toward getting to nationals,” Johnson said Monday afternoon. “The girls have it in their minds that they want to get to nationals. I think that’s the goal with every team, but we’re looking forward to the lessons and experiences that the girls will set as a team.”
Nationals? Really? For a program that settled into a win-loss record around the .500 mark last year?
“Why not?” say the Lady Jays.
“I feel like we can really build from last year,” sophomore Tiffany Gehl, a 5-11 middle hitter from Fulda, said. “We all have good skills. I think we all just need to get it together as a team.”
Johnson, in her fourth year as the Minnesota West mentor, and her assistant coach Tina Nickel have five sophomores with experience. They include Gehl, 5-5 libero Maddie Rasche, 6-0 right hitter Lindsey Drooger, 5-10 outside hitter Christine Kazemba and 5-7 defensive specialist Kari Suby.
Gehl, Drooger and Kazemba are proven net weapons. Johnson likes Gehl (from Fulda) for her strength on the front row and her movement around the court. Drooger (Edgerton) is another strong hitter and a key factor in blocking opposing outside hitters. Kazemba (Round Lake/Eau Claire Immanuel High School) is seen as an “extremely hard worker” and a smart, versatile player.
Rasche (Heron Lake) is an outstanding defensive player and vocal communicator. Suby (Brewster/Worthington High School) is another good communicator and solid back row player.
The Lady Jays have four more Worthington High School graduates on the team, 5-5 freshman setter Morgan Harberts, 5-8 outside hitter and defensive specialist KC Riley, 5-4 defensive specialist Kara Honius and 5-10 outside hitter Kristen Andersen. Hanna Bosma, a Southwest Christian grad, brings more height. She’s a 6-1 middle hitter who should add to the team’s attacking and blocking abilities.
The squad has been practicing at the Worthington YMCA, but will play their home games in the Worthington High School gymnasium. The new Minnesota West gymnasium won’t be completed until, tentatively, sometime in October.
Minnesota West opens the 2013 campaign Wednesday at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids.
“I’m excited for this season,” Johnson said. “I think we have a number of players who have quite a bit of talent, and from practice, they’ve already started working well together.”
Apparently, the players are self-starters, too. They didn’t require Johnson, or Nickel — an experienced coach in her own right, and a fitness specialist, to boot — to get them to aim high. They’re aiming high all by themselves, believing that with their sophomore experience, good height and hard work, they can go far.
“It kind of helps you through practice,” Gehl said. “You think, ‘Why is this so hard?’
“But then you think, ‘Well, I have to work this hard to go to nationals.’”