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W-WG determined to reach the top in Red Rock volleyball

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Could this be the year the Southwest Christian Eagles lose their volleyball grip on the Red Rock Conference?

And could Westbrook-Walnut Grove be the team that climbs that top rung?

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Southwest Christian won its second straight conference title in 2012, but the Eagles enter 2013 with some important injury concerns. W-WG, on the other hand, returns its supremely talented 5-10 hitter Dayna Comnick, who earned first-team Daily Globe All-Area honors as a junior.

Southwest Christian went 10-0 in the conference last fall while Westbrook-Walnut Grove slid into the runnerup spot with a 9-1 mark. Southwestern United (which also returns a first-team All-Area pick) finished third, followed by Murray County Central, Red Rock Central, Mountain Lake Area and Hills-Beaver Creek. Adrian, Edgerton and Fulda -- all with 2-8 conference marks -- were next in line, ahead of Ellsworth which brought up the rear.

Southwest Christian head coach Brian Busker knows he's got lots of rivals gunning for his team today.

"We still have a target on our back, winning the conference the last two years," he said this week.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove head coach Cathy Baumann is one of those rivals longingly looking up.

"We'd love to (win the conference). It's about time. We got second last year and second the year before that," she said. "The girls want it."

Here's a quick look at the teams in the Red Rock Conference:

Southwest Christian

The Eagles graduated six seniors, and of the three returnees who saw significant playing time, two of them are nursing injuries.

A strong outside hitter, junior Savannah Tinklenberg has a torn ACL and is out for the season. Junior back row specialist Alexis Knutson also has a torn ACL and may yet return. Southwest Christian does have a healthy Tianna Top in camp. A 6-1 junior middle hitter, Top is also a good blocker. But the Eagles will have their work cut out for them this fall.

There are only two seniors on the squad: outside hitter and floor leader Brooke Mouw and right hitter and backup setter Jasmin Kruisselbrink. Junior setter Sydney Esselink also returns.

Busker says he has a good sophomore class this season, but each one will need to listen and learn. The Eagles won't be as powerful as last year, says the coach.

"We're mostly going to have to outwork people with our defense. We're going to have to dig really well," Busker said.

Westbrook-Walnut Grove

With Comnick, the Chargers have a senior leader who has started since her freshman year. And as if to throw another scare into opposing teams, W-WG head coach Cathy Baumann says her 5-10 outside hitter hasn't stopped learning.

To complement Comnick, the Chargers also have 5-6 sophomore setter Abby Herding back, along with senior 5-9 right side hitter Madison Takle. Herding started all of last season and, according to her coach, "never gives up on a ball." Takle has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, and she's also a fine blocker.

In all, W-WG returns six letter winners from a team that posted a 22-7 record in 2012.

Baumann says the Chargers, who like to run a quick tempo offense, hope to be a strong hitting team in 2013. In practice, they're working on becoming more consistent with their passing.

Southwestern United

Head coach Christine Malm lays her cards right on the table. The Wildcats are angling for an excellent year. All three seniors that were lost to graduation were starters, but the bulk of team strength returns.

Nine letter winners are in camp. Key players include 6-2 junior middle hitter Courtney Place, 5-11 sophomore right hitter Andrea Hinkeldey and 5-5 senior libero Autumn Hinkeldey.

Place, who was first-team Daily Globe All-Area as a sophomore, is less than 100 kills away from 1,000 for her career. Andrea Hinkeldey is described by the coach as a "go-getter" who puts up a big block on the right side. Autumn Hinkeldey is seen as a leader and good communicator.

Offense should not be a problem for the Wildcats. Malm is hoping that service receiving can also become a team strength.

Murray County Central

For the past two years, Kristi Bose has been the Rebels' go-to player. Now a senior middle hitter, the 5-8 dynamo is an outstanding passer as well as the team's "best all-around player," in coach Kati Bobeldyk's words. Smart and versatile, Bose led the team last year in kills and blocks.

Also returning for MCC's 6-2 offense are senior setter Paris Thomas and junior setter Jade Giese.

"We're a very experienced team. I have nine seniors out this year. Seven return from last year and two more who didn't play last year, but have played before," said Bobeldyk, who adds: "As long as we can stay healthy, I think we can have a very successful year."

MCC finished 11-9 in 2012.

Red Rock Central

Six letter winners return for the Falcons. Leaders include 5-5 senior libero Brooke Rasmussen, 5-7 senior outside hitter Cassie Erickson and 5-9 sophomore setter Mikaela Smith. Rasmussen, who achieved all-conference honors a year ago, is starting her fifth season on varsity. Erickson adds leadership and a calm demeanor. Smith, the tallest player on the team, gained important experience at the end of last season.

RRC lost its top three scorers from last year's 14-13 squad but coach Sara Arfsten hopes the middle will be solid.

She's also hoping some of the younger, more inexperienced players can take a step up.

Mountain Lake Area

Coming back from a 12-13 team are five key players.

Senior setter Rachel Dukes surpassed the 1,000 assist mark last season. Also returning are senior libero Mikayla Falk, senior outside hitter Jordan Syverson, senior middle hitter Maggie Wahldan and sophomore middle hitter Carmen Syverson.

Hills-Beaver Creek

Five seniors will lead the Patriots into the fray. They are middle hitter Taylor Wingert, outside hitter Jessica Sandbulte, setter Megan Westrum, and defensive specialists Hallie Baker and Gabby Luethje. A 6-1 junior hitter-blocker, Kelli Esselink, is also back.

Head coach Mandy Kor says H-BC possesses a defensive mindset but there's also some good size on the squad capable of helping the offensive output.

Kor says she expects the team to improve consistently throughout the season.

"They're very determined and very hard-working, and very encouraging to one another," she said.

Adrian

The Dragons had a senior-dominated team last year. It's a senior-dominated team again this year. The top three include setter Sydnie Wiess, outside hitter Corie Rekamp and right hitter Shelly Loosbrock.

Wiess was the backup setter in 2012, and she also worked on the back row. Rekamp, with her great timing and powerful serve, has "one of the strongest arms I've seen," according to head coach Brianne Einck. Loosbrock is the team captain.

Einck is in her first year as Adrian volleyball head coach. "My main goal for this year," she said, "is just to bring in a positive outlook and positive atmosphere."

Edgerton

One starter returns for Edgerton, and that is 6-0 junior hitter Jessica Jasper, who played on the right side in 2012 and is being moved to the middle. A good blocker, she moves across the net well, said coach Kristin Schultz.

Defense could be Edgerton's strength. But with only six letter winners returning, Schultz says the more inexperienced players will need to learn as they go.

"I still expect us to be pretty competitive," Schultz said. "We only won three games last year, but we were very close in a lot of those games."

Fulda

The Raiders, who open their season on the road at Worthington tonight, have six letter winners back. Seniors are middle hitter Myah Holinka, right hitter Bani Hermeling and middle hitter Alli Van den Bosch. Two juniors, outside hitters Courtney Tiesler and Caitlin Strenge, are set to go. Also back is freshman setter Randi Tiesler.

After posting a 5-20 record last season, the Raiders are looking for improvement.

"We don't have anyone who stands out as a strong hitter," said head coach Jennifer Tiesler. "We hope we can pull together and play as a team."

Ellsworth

Panthers head coach Mac McDowell believes he's got a scrappy team that can compete with the better teams in the area as long as confidence holds.

"We've got a good senior core back this year. Our two main goals are to win a playoff game and be above .500."

Five seniors will provide leadership. They are middle hitters Emily Chapa and Hannah Mulder, setter Heidi Nolte, left hitter Alexa Huisman and outside hitter Leah Werner.

The 5-9 Huisman received an honorable mention for all-conference last year.

McDowell hopes an improved team performance in service receiving will help them turn the Panthers' 2012 fortunes around.

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Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and six grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He self-publishes short stories in his spare time. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" are being distributed through a national publisher.
(507) 376-7328
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