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Doug Wolter: A new season, a new set of issues

In high school sports, every new season presents a new set of issues.

In my view, two programs are especially intriguing this fall.

On the one hand, we have the Mountain Lake Area nine-man football team, which racked up unheard-of scores during the 2013 regular season before succumbing finally in the state tournament.

On the other hand is the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton volleyball team, which came up one victory short of a berth in the state Class A tournament.

What separates the MLA gridders and the T-M-B volleyballers this year, besides the fact that they play different sports, is that one team has graduated several important seniors. The other team is virtually intact.

Graduation hit head coach Tim Kirk’s Woverines pretty hard. Gone are four All-Southern Confederacy Conference players — Carter Kirk, Josh Grev, Andrew Hempeck and Vince Johnson — along with another honorable mention senior, Alex Gerdes.

Expect MLA to have another fine season, however, we shouldn’t expect it to be quite as impressive on the scoreboard as the 2013 unit.

Through the years, Mountain Lake has seen many outstanding football teams, but the 2013 team was one for the ages. During the regular season it blew out many opponents — Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton 73-22, Renville County West 91-7, Hills-Beaver Creek 54-0, Southwestern United 77-0, Westbrook-Walnut Grove 67-6 and Randoph 79-6 over just the first six weeks. The Wolverines’ run finally ended with a 35-18 loss to Grand Meadow in their first state tournament test.

“Last year’s team was one of those teams that, if you had ‘em in class at a young age, you knew they were something special,” said Kirk.

Tim’s son Carter was the offensive player of the year in the Southern Confederacy West, and Grev was the defensive player of the year.

This year’s Wolverine team will be different for a variety of reasons, of course. Gone are many performers who started as juniors (in 2012 MLA also made the state tournament), but in their place will be a handful of players who competed on an undefeated JV team.

One of the benefits of having such a powerful team last fall, which usually had games well in hand before halftime, was that Kirk could play a lot of reserves. This year, they’ll need to be leaders.

“By the looks of it, we’re going to have legitimately seven, eight seniors on both sides of the ball,” Kirk said on Tuesday.

Depth is the biggest concern right now. That, and maybe a little bit of mental toughness.

“A lot of them didn’t have to play in a lot of close, tight games last year,” added the coach.

Mountain Lake Area might get a good idea early in the season just how ready it is for the long campaign ahead. The Wolverines open on the road Aug. 28 against Edgerton/Ellsworth, one of the area’s best 9-man programs coming off another oustanding year. The following week MLA hosts Hills-Beaver Creek, another fine area program bringing key players back for 2014.

MLA defeated the E/E Flying Dutchmen 48-18 in the regular season last year, then held on for a 20-12 victory in the section playoffs.

“They’re gonna be extra hungry,” predicts Coach Kirk.

As for the Tracy-Milroy-Balaton volleyball team, it heads into 2014 after falling in the 2013 Section 3A finals to Minneota, which went on to finish third in the state tournament.

What T-M-B has going for it is a history of outstanding girls athletics and — perhaps most importantly — virtually everyone returning from its fine 2013 squad. The Panthers defeated another good team in the sub-section finals last year, Murray County Central, 3-0, and were described then by Daily Globe reporter Les Knutson as being well-balanced and scrappy.

Those attributes have described T-M-B teams for years, and there’s little doubt Coach Kathy Gervais’ 2014 volleyball squad will be similarly blessed this fall. I saw the Panthers play in the section final against Minneota and saw a team that had no quit in it.

Anna Peterson, a libero, made second-team Daily Globe All-Area as a junior in 2013. And junior teammate Kassidy Przymus, an outside hitter, was third team. Sophomore middle hitter Jessie Nelson and junior middle hitter Sammie Gervais were honorable mentions.

T-M-B won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this fall. Everybody knows the talent the Panthers take into 2014.

It might seem a little bit unfair that a team carries with it such high expectations heading into a season, but pressure is just a part of sports. It will be interesting to see how well T-M-B — and the MLA football team — handle the pressure that comes a year after their special 2013 seasons.

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 seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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