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RRC VOLLEYBALL: Red Rock Conference teams gear up for start of season

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By Jordan Willi

LAMBERTON -- Despite finishing fifth in the Red Rock Conference last season with an 8-3 record, the Red Rock Central Falcons volleyball team made a strong run in the postseason.

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The Falcons knocked off opponent after opponent on their way to the Section 3A girl's volleyball subsection finals before losing to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.

Even with the strong finish her team had last season, Falcon's head coach Sara Arfsten won't settle for fifth place in the conference this year.

"We hope we are right up in the top of the conference vying for a conference title," Arfsten, who is in her fifth season coaching at RRC, said. "The standings in the conference were tight last year. There could have been a five way tie for first place if things had happened differently. We are hoping we can improve from last year, but we will just have to see if we get there."

Although the Falcon's lost three key players who contributed to last year's playoff success in Klarissa Larsen, Alison Kircher and Kendra Hagert, Arfsten knows her team can still improve upon their conference standings from last season.

"I want us to continue what we started last year," Arfsten said. "We made a nice run in the tournament before we lost to T-M-B in the subsection finals. We were a fourth or fifth seed and we still knocked everybody else out in our half of the section."

With the holes left by Larsen, Kircher and Hagert, the Falcon's will be looking for under and upperclassmen a like to step up and play bigger roles on and off the floor. One player Arfsten is glad to have back from last year's roster is Chloe Arfsten, a senior outside hitter who trailed only Larsen in kills and lead the team in service aces while also being one of the squads best passers.

Two other players returning from last year's team who coach Arfsten feels will have a big impact on the Falcon's success is junior libero Brooke Rasmussesn as well as senior middle hitter Fern Engen. A newcomer coach Arfsten knows will make an immediate impact is freshman setter Mikaela Smith, who's strengths Arfsten believes will compliment the rest of her team.

"We are bringing back a strong nucleus from last year's team," Arfsten said. "This year, I basically moved people around where we needed them. With the changes we are going to hope the team can mesh and play well together with the girls playing in different spots this season. We want to build off the great run we had last season."

RRC kicks off their 2012 campaign against the Rabbits of Wabasso High School at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove looks for continued success

WESTBROOK -- A strong bond between players is always important to the success of any volleyball team. That is why Westbrook-Walnut Grove Charger's head coach Cathy Baumann encourages her players to spend time together and get to know each other better every day.

"We have a really tight team," Baumann said. "All the girls have played together for a while now. I think our strength is the bonds we have with each other. The girls have told me before that they feel more like a family than just a team."

After a third place finish in the RRC and a 9-2 conference record last season, Baumann is happy with how her team played in the 2011, but she knows there is still room for improvement.

"We were doing well up until the section tournament, after that we just fell apart," Baumann, who is in her second year as head coach of the Chargers, said.

One improvement Baumann feels her team needs to make this season is to keep the ball moving and keep their opponents on their toes throughout the whole game.

"We need to keep things moving and never want to run the same play twice," Baumman said. "We want to keep the defense guessing and be more aggressive. We also need to communicate better in games while keying in on our opponents movements to get better angles."

Baumann is hoping that despite the graduation of key players such as hitter Anne Woelber won't hamper her team's chances of another successful season. To fill in for the likes of Woelber and the others will not be easy, but Abby Herding and Kelsi Wahl should lessen the blow.

The Chargers made it to the second round of the Section 3A subsection tournament before falling to Red Rock Central 3-0. With their early exit from the playoffs in 2011, Baumann is looking for her team to pick up where they left off last season and make it farther into the subsection tournament.

"Obviously we want to have another successful season this year," Baumman said. "We'd love to do better. But we have to take it one game at a time and put forward our best effort every game."

Westbrook-Walnut Grove starts the season playing the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton Panthers at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, in Westbrooke.

Southwest Star Concept and Round Lake-Brewster join forces

OKABENA -- Last year, the Southwest Star Concept Quasars and the Round Lake-Brewster Raiders were two separate teams battling it out in the Red Rock Conference. But that rivalry came to an end this off season when the two teams joined forces to become the Southwest United Wildcats.

Taking the helm of this new team is new head coach Christine Malm along with former Round Lake-Brewster's head coach Kayla Johnson who will serve as assistant coach for the Wildcats this year.

"I believe that we are a pretty solid program all the way through," Malm said. "I hope to bring a positive competitive energy to this program. I have a huge passion for the game and I hope to pass that on to my players."

With a new team comes new challenges, but Malm is ready to make this co-op squad better than either team would be on its own.

"In talking to the girls about both teams last season, I think one thing we will strive for is being more consistent in every aspect of the game," Malm said. "They had spurts of greatness last season, and I want to see that happen more often."

One area Malm feels her new team can really improve is on defense. Despite being a "scrappy" team, Malm wants to strive for more consistency and accuracy with their passes while also being tougher on the serve.

"I think it's great that this team is a scrappy team, but if the passes are better and more on target, there will be more time and energy to set up a strong offense," Malm said.

Malm expects her team to play their best every game and knows that if they can do that there is no limit to what the Wildcats can accomplish this season.

The Wildcats first game as a team comes against Jackson County Central at 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 30, in Okabena.

Adrian hopes for improvement from last season

ADRIAN -- With six seniors and nine juniors returning this season for the Adrian Dragons, new head coach Cheryl Fey knows her team has the experience to move up the Red Rock Conference standings in 2012.

However, experience doesn't always translate to success. For that reason, Fey decided to break down her team and rebuild them from the ground up, starting with the fundamentals.

"Through out fall camp I have broken down all the skills needed in volleyball and also spent a lot of time working on key footwork," Fey said. "I can see the improvement in the level of volleyball already, with just one week under my belt."

Finishing with a 5-6 record in conference last season, Fey knows, that in order for her team to improve their record, the Dragons have to find ways to fix key areas of their game where they struggled a year ago.

"In addition to the fundamentals I have keyed on finding the best passers and developing them all into even better passes," Fey said. "I feel we have some great talent and if we can get our passes consistent, we will be playing some exciting volleyball this year."

For Fey, her main goal for this season is to have a record above .500 and take at least a fourth seed or higher into the subsection tournament.

The Dragons get their first chance to reach that goal when they take on Martin Luther at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 27, in Northrop.

Being competitive main goal for Hills-Beaver Creek

HILLS -- After going 4-5 in conference last season, the Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots hope that their luck will change when they step onto the floor of their new gym at Hills High School.

In order for the Patriots to have success on their new court, returning seniors Paige Leuthold, Meghan Leuthold and Haley VanWhye will have to take charge and lead by example.

"Returning seniors Paige Leuthold, Meghan Leuthold, and Haley VanWhye will be major contributors to the team's success as well as sophmore Hattie VanWhye," Patriots head coach Mary Jo Graphenteen said. "Newcomer sophomore Kelly Esselink will add size to the team which we have been missing."

Even with the returning seniors leading the way, Graphenteen still knows her team needs to make changes to the way they play to be competitive within the Red Rock Conference.

"Keeping the ball in play is one thing we can improve on this season," Graphenteen said. "We also need to work on serving and receiving serves as well because they will be a key to our team's success."

Graphenteen expects that her team will improve on their record from last year and hopes they can continue to become better with their ball control from match to match. If all those things fall into place, Graphenteen has no doubt her team will be competitive against any and every opponent they face this season.

The Patriots begin their 2012 season with a match against the Luverne Cardinals at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28, at Hills-Beaver Creek High School.

Being competitive main goal for Hills-Beaver Creek

HILLS -- After going 4-5 in conference last season, the Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots hope that their luck will change when they step onto the floor of their new gym at Hills High School.

In order for the Patriots to have success on their new court, returning seniors Paige Leuthold, Meghan Leuthold and Haley VanWhye will have to take charge and lead by example.

"Returning seniors Paige Leuthold, Meghan Leuthold, and Haley VanWhye will be major contributors to the team's success as well as sophmore Hattie VanWhye," Patriots head coach Mary Jo Graphenteen said. "Newcomer sophomore Kelly Esselink will add size to the team which we have been missing."

Even with the returning seniors leading the way, Graphenteen still knows her team needs to make changes to the way they play to be competitive within the Red Rock Conference.

"Keeping the ball in play is one thing we can improve on this season," Graphenteen said. "We also need to work on serving and receiving serves as well because they will be a key to our team's success."

Graphenteen expects that her team will improve on their record from last year and hopes they can continue to become better with their ball control from match to match. If all those things fall into place, Graphenteen has no doubt her team will be competitive against any and every opponent they face this season.

The Patriots begin their 2012 season with a match against the Luverne Cardinals at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28, at Hills-Beaver Creek High School.

Murray County Central looks to challenge for league title

SLAYTON -- Even though the Murray County Central Rebels were runners up last year in the Red Rock Conference, head coach Kati Bobeldyk knows her team has the skill to push for the conference title.

"We have numerous returning players with experience that can lead the way for those new to varsity," Kati Bobeldyk, who is in her third year as head coach at MCC, said. "We have a hard-working, dedicated team that has a lot of potential to finish in the top of the RRC again."

The path to the top of the conference might be a little harder this year with the loses of outside hitters Makenzie Giese and Ashley Woldt, who lead the team in scoring last season. However, Bobeldyk has confidence that her returning players can fill the big shoes left by Giese and Woldt.

"We have a good group of underclassmen that have joined the varsity team this year who have been competing for positions offensively and defensively," Bobeldyk said.

Although her team finished fourth in the RRC, Bobeldyk knows her Rebels can do better. In order to do so, Bobeldyk will make sure her team focuses on defense and passing as well as trying to limit mistakes by playing smart volleyball.

"As always, we will focus on defense and serve receive," Bobeldyk said. "Without consistent serve receptions, we are unable to run the offense we want to run to be successful."

The Rebels of MCC open up the season with a game against the Minneota Vikings at 5 p.m. Aug. 28, in Minneota.

Edgerton driven by experience

EDGERTON -- After losing four seniors from last season's squad, the rest of the Edgerton Flying Dutchmen know they are going to have to up their game to stay competitive in the Red Rock Conference.

"We have six seniors this year, all who either started or saw a lot of playing time," first year head coach at Edgerton, Kristin Schultz, said. "I think all six seniors should make a significant impact on the direction of our team this year."

The Flying Dutchmen get back many experienced players from last season's team including setter Jessica Menning, middles Sarah Post and Tara DeKam and outside hitter Ciara Everett.

But even with six seniors and a host of other experienced players returning to lead team, Schultz knows her team will still need to take steps forward in all areas of the game improve their 5-7 conference record from last year.

"We need to work together and learn to celebrate the little steps," Schultz said. "As the season progresses, we will need to keep improving on our service reception. I feel we will rely and concentrate on our net play to keep us competitive."

With the new season, Schultz feels her team has a good chance to stay in games this year more than they did in 2011.

"I expect to be competitive in all games," Schultz said. "We will look to find the good things we did in each game and the things we can improve upon."

The Flying Dutchmen being their 2012 campaign against the Elsworth Panthers at 5 p.m. Aug. 28, in Edgerton.

Ellsworth looking to move up standings

ELLSWORTH -- Last season did not end the way the Ellsworth Panthers had hoped it would.

The Panthers ended the season with a 3-9 record in Red Rock Conference play while going 7-11 overall. They also lost in the first round of the subsection playoffs to conference rival Murray County Central by a final score of 3-1.

Ellsworth will also have to make up for the losses of middle Emily Timmer and outside hitter Abby Drenth. The Panthers will get help to fill those holes with new comers Leah Werner, Baylee Ross and Brenna Kramer.

One area that Ellsworth needs to fix in order to become a better team is their play on their home court. Last season, the Panthers went 2- 5 in Ellsworth.

However, Ellsworth won even less game on the road, only picking up one win away from home against the RRC.

The Panther start this season with a face-off against conference rival Edgerton at 5 p.m. Aug. 28, in Edgerton.

Mountain Lake Area looks for more wins

MOUNTAIN LAKE --This year, Mountain Lake has joined forces with Mountain Lake Christian High School to form the co-op team of Mountain Lake Area. With the new team come new challenges for the Wolverines.

After finishing 11th in the Red Rock Conference last season, the Wolverines will be hungry to make their way up the conference standings.

Mountain Lake Area was bounced from the Section 3A subsection playoffs in the first round by the Westbrook-Walnut Grove Chargers 3-0.

With a new school joining with Mountain Lake, the team will have a whole new look and feel with the players they gain from Mountain Lake Christian. Hopefully for the Wolverines the new teammates gel quickly and can lead them to a higher spot on the conference latter.

The Wolverines begin their season against the Springfield Tigers at 7 p.m. Aug. 27, in Mountain Lake.

Fulda eyes improvent on .500 season

FULDA -- The Fulda Raiders ended last season at exactly .500 with a 12-12 record. But they were able to collect a 6-5 record within the Red Rock Conference.

This season, moving up the conference standings is one things the team hopes they can accomplish.

The losses of Courtney Hulstein, Silvia Zanini and Sarah Stenge will be a big whole for the Raiders to climb out of. However, the additions of Alli Vanden Bosch, Brittany Leinen and Randi Tiesler will hopefully offset the team's losses.

With five seniors returning to the team, Fulda will not be lacking in experience or leadership, but whether that will transfer to wins is still to be seen.

The Raiders start their season off with a match against the Worthington Trojans at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24, in Fulda.

Daily Globe Reporter Jordan Willi

may be reached at 376-7335.

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