Adrian volleyball Dragons got everyone's attention last year, and they're still going strong
ADRIAN -- Never known for its volleyball program, things appear to be changing for Adrian High School.
Last year, the Dragons surprised many volleyball watchers on their consistently successful regular season, then they advanced in Section 3A to take on eventual state champion Minneota in the tournament finale. This year, with the target squarely placed on their backs, AHS reeled off 23 straight victories and was named the No. 1 seed in South Section 3A.
The program’s rise has been fueled in the usual way: with a bunch of talented, dedicated players who put in extra work in the offseason and support each other on and off the court; and with a committed coach who captures the heart of her players so that they never want to let her down.
The excellence that head coach Brittany Jackson’s team demonstrated last year was, it seemed, only grudgingly accepted by the southwest Minnesota volleyball community. To the Dragons, themselves, it was no surprise. Jackson was asked this week when it became obvious last year that the team had arrived.
“I don’t know,” she said during a break in an afternoon practice session. “Maybe like in the middle of the season. Because I remember when we beat Hills (Beaver-Creek). And people were thinking, ‘Was that a fluke?’ I said, ‘No, we really have a good team.’ They worked a ton in the offseason to get where they are. It’s not just what happened in the season.”
Kasie Tweet, the Dragons’ super senior setter and on-court leader, says the players want to play a high level of volleyball not only for themselves, but for the coach, the fans, and for the school.
“I think a lot of people were questioning. But I think a lot of these girls, we knew that we could be good. … We wanted to be a turnaround for the volleyball program. Not just for one year, but to keep the success going down the line.”
She added, “We have a lot of well-rounded players. We have a lot of players where they’re not just going to do one skill for the team. They can help in all aspects.”
Defense, especially in the serve receiving area, has always been a strength with this group. Offensive execution has steadily developed throughout the 2019 campaign in large part due to depth. Senior Bailey Lonneman and juniors Brianna Reckamp, Marissa Lehnhoff and Shawna Rogers are the hitting leaders. It’s a fortunate situation for Tweet, who can operate as a setter much like a football quarterback blessed with a stable of dependable receivers -- she can confidently deliver a ball to whoever is “open.”
Kasie’s little sister Mayssa, a sophomore, has become a solid libero -- more confident in her role, said Coach Jackson. She “knows that Kasie can’t get a set without passing it to her first,” and the younger Tweet has come to feel she deserves the trust Kasie and her teammates place in her.
A winning chemical formula
Every winning volleyball team likes to talk about togetherness and camaraderie, and the Dragons are no exception.
“We have a lot of team chemistry. We want what’s best for each other. We want to help each other out on the court,” said Reckamp.
Sometimes, she admitted, the Dragons show up at a match not quite as sharp as they’ve been before, but “in the end, we still pull off a win.”
That happened earlier this week in a four-game win over Luverne. The Dragons lost the first game because they weren’t ready at the time, said Reckamp, but they talked about it, got their act together, and swept games two, three and four.
When people questioned whether the Adrian volleyball program had truly turned a corner, said Jackson, it became an extra incentive for the players. Their belief in each other, she testified, is real, and so is the serious offseason work several of the players have committed themselves to.
And how about this 2019 Adrian.2 version. Is it better than Adrian.1?
“I don’t know if we’re better. It’s just that we found ways to win last year, then it just progressed and moved forward. This year when they found out they could do it, they just wanted to do it again,” Jackson said.
Pressure? Well, of course. With winning comes a little added pressure.
“They did take some of that pressure right away,” agreed Jackson. “A couple of weeks ago we said we wanted to just take one team at a time and just enjoy the experience, and not worry about what’s next to come. I think, naturally, when you’re winning everybody wants to be winning. It’s a natural instinct. But I feel the girls are very respectful of teams. That’s what’s special about them. They don’t go like they’re the best team in the conference. They’re always very respectful of everybody else.”
Rogers, probably like the rest of her teammates, has had to grow into the team’s more high-profile role. She says her father, Lance -- a former state champion wrestler at Worthington High School -- has been an encouragement.
“I come from a competitive family. My dad always says just use your nerves to your advantage,” she explained.
Shawna said she often has told her teammates to relax and play loose. The team is close.
“I think we all know our spots -- where to go, so we just rely on each other, and we trust each other, knowing where the ball will be,” she added.
With this year’s Section 3A tournament set to begin on Monday with play-in contests, Rogers admits she wouldn’t mind a rematch with Minneota in the finals.
“For sure,” she said. “I think we’ll be more aware of what’s to come. We just needed more competition (last season). We’ll be ready for it.”