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Prep volleyball: Area squads look to build on 2013 success

FILE PHOTO Southwestern United’s Courtney Place (left) and Murray County Central’s Kristi Bose battle for the ball above the net during volleyball action from the 2013 season. Place returns to lead her school, re-named Heron Lake-Okabena, in 2014.

Like any other year, there was no shortage of outstanding high school volleyball teams in southwest Minnesota during the 2013 season, and the biggest news emanated from the northern part of the section.

Marshall won its third consecutive state Class AA championship. The Tigers, in the final season of Southwest Conference play, showed once again the power of their program. They won state championships in 2004, 2007 and 2009, too.

In Section 3A, the crown went to Minneota. The Vikings defeated a young and impressive Tracy-Milroy Balaton team in the section finals to clinch their fifth straight state tournament trip. The Panthers, who bring virtually everyone back from their 21-13 squad, will be one of the favorites to make state in 2014. Several volleyball squads from the more southern portion of the section, in both AA and A, may have something to say about it, however, before the autumn leaves begin to fall.

Here’s a quick look around southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa volleyball camps as the new season starts to gather momentum:

Class AA

Jackson County Central figures to have another highly competitive team; that’s nothing new. The Huskies posted a 22-8 record last season but (once again) joined all the other fine Section 3AA teams in watching Marshall qualify for the state tournament. This year, the Huskies refocus after losing just one senior to graduation. Whereas the Tigers lose several outstanding seniors — including one of the state’s top hitters, Kenzie Beekman, JCC returns several stars.

Back for her senior season is Kaylee Burmeister, a member of the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association (MVCA) All-State team. A 5-7 hitter, Burmeister recorded 302 kills last season for head coach Teresa Van Epps.

Also returning for JCC is libero Kathryn Nasby, an honorable mention MVCA all-stater last fall. Rachel Johnson, Sydney Nyborg, Sydney Eddy and Abby Benson — all returning starters — round out the Huskies nucleus. Van Epps says JCC will run a 6-2 offense this season featuring Johnson and Lacey Wacker as the top setters, and three hitters will be in the front row at all times.

Given JCC’s well-earned reputation as a powerful hitting team, that’s a scary proposition for the opposition.

“We’re looking at competing hard every time we go out. The motto this year is work hard, play hard. They are determined to get to state. They’ve had the passion every day,” Van Epps said.

If there is any concern, it may be depth.

“My concern is my bench,” Van Epps maintained. “I don’t have a lot of girls on the bench. I cannot afford injuries.”

In assessing the other strong Class AA teams in the area, Van Epps pointed to Marshall, Worthington and Pipestone Area.

With the return of hard-hitting outside hitter Taylor Kruisselbrink, who earned second-team Daily Globe All-Area, the Pipestone Area Arrows appear headed in the right direction. Libero Bianca Claussen is also back, and with a good group of fine young players coming up, Pipestone Area could surprise under coach Jamie Juhl. The Arrows have already drawn attention from Van Epps and Luverne first-year coach Stacy Busse-Remme.

Busse-Remme is a former Luverne High School volleyball standout who says she’s anxious to get the excitement back in Cardinals volleyball. LHS has gone 18-26-4 over the last two seasons. As for the Arrows, which share a long-standing rivalry with the Cards, Busse-Remme predicts, “They’re going to have a very good team this year. And if it doesn’t happen this year, it’s gonna happen.”

Pipestone Area opened the season Thursday with a tough five-set victory on the road against Canby. Krusselbrink had 16 digs and 15 kills in the match. Luverne lost 3-1 to St. James on Thursday.

Worthington, which opens Tuesday on the road at Southwest Christian, comes off a 12-13-3 campaign and returns four letter winners; Whitney Jensen, Allie Bruns, Betsy Thompson and Allison Kremer.

Class A

Murray County Central is coming off a fabulous year, reaching the Section 3A semifinals before falling to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in three sets. The Rebels defeated another outstanding team from its sub-section, Southwestern United, 3-2, to get to the T-M-B showdown.

This season the Rebels will be without Kristi Bose, a two-time team MVP who graduated after racking up 304 kills as a senior. She is one of nine seniors MCC lost to graduation.

“We’re young, we have three seniors out this year. We’re looking to them for some leadership,” said head coach Kati Bobeldyk.

Jade Giese, a setter and returning starter; Sierra Van Iperen, a 5-9 hitter and another returning starter; and 5-10 hitter Morgan Behrends lead the team this fall. Bobeldyk says MCC’s offense may take some time to develop and she hopes defense and good ball control will help lead the way to victories in the early going. The team is focused and determined, and coming off a good B squad campaign.

“That team chemistry, I think, is going to go a long way,” Bobeldyk said.

Southwestern United has undergone a name change. The school has now become the Heron Lake-Okabena Wildcats, and although the name is different, expectations are typically high. Courtney Place, a 6-2 senior middle hitter, is back to lead the squad. An honorable mention Class A All-State performer in her junior campaign, Place helped her team to a Junior Olympics national championship in the summer. She had 467 kills and 46 solo blocks for the high school team in 2013.

The Wildcats also return 5-9 outside hitter Kailey Wendland — a mentally-tough player who’s also an exceptional encourager — and 6-0 middle hitter Rachel Mathias, who is smart and makes few mistakes.

“I think we ended our season a little short of what our expectations were,” said head coach Christine Malm, whose charges posted a 25-5-1 record. “We’re looking to be stronger than we were last year.”

Malm adds, “I know we’ve been known as an offensively strong team. We have been working on our serve receive. I think we can say it’s improved over last year. I’d like to be known as a defensively tough team, too.”

Another area team likely to be in the mix is Southwest Christian, which lost only one starter from last year’s 18-9-2 squad. Six-two senior Tianna Top is a strong hitter. Junior Ann Pater, at 5-10, is another strong middle player and probably the team’s best blocker. Senior Savannah Tinklenberg missed all of last year with an ACL injury, but her return gives the Eagles a powerful outside hitter.

“I think we’ll be able to mix it up and hit from all angles on the floor,” head coach Brian Busker predicted.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton’s strong close in 2013 and the return of so many of its top players makes it certain that it won’t sneak up on anybody this year. One key absence, however, will be junior hitter Jessie Nelson, who was involved in a serious car accident in the offseason.

Veteran Windom Area head coach Ron Wendorff usually has his team ready for big matches, and although he lost five seniors from last year’s 17-10-1 team he returns three key seniors. Jasmine Carlson has been a starter since her freshman season at the libero position. Michaela Hacker is a 6-0 middle hitter who missed part of last season due to injury. Setter Hannah Redmond is also back.

“We’ve gotta grow into it,” said Wendorff about the upcoming campaign.

Red Rock Central posted a 15-11 mark last season but graduated top players Brooke Rasmussen (libero), Cassie Erickson (hitter) and Melanie Kedl (hitter). Westbrook-Walnut Grove has also enjoyed success in recent years. The Chargers went 16-13 in 2013 but graduated one of the area’s top all-around players, Dayna Comnick.

Northwest Iowa

The Sheldon Orabs were mighty hard to beat in 2013, going 34-5 and qualifying for the Iowa state Class 3A tournament. Jessica Van Beek and Marti Vogel graduated after having combined for more than 800 kills. But head coach Eric Maassen expects his team to be highly competitive this fall.

“We think we have a pretty good mix of people coming back,” he said.

Senior Sami Kleinwolterink was Sheldon’s top setter for the second half of last season. Senior Emily Johnson is a returning starter at libero who came into her own in the second half. Senior Kati Kneifl is a solid outside hitter who was a part-time starter in ’13.

Maassen said the Orabs hope to make a return state trip this year. “I don’t think we’re going to be quite as explosive as we were last year,” he said, “but I think we have the chance to be really, really good defensively.”

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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