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College volleyball: Lady Jays open season with new look

The Minnesota West volleyball team has a new look to it this season. The Lady Jays return only two players -- libero Erin Swenson and right side hitter Rachael Evans -- from a 2015 season that saw them go 2-12 in Minnesota College Athletic Confer...

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The Minnesota West volleyball team has a new look to it this season.

The Lady Jays return only two players -- libero Erin Swenson and right side hitter Rachael Evans -- from a 2015 season that saw them go 2-12 in Minnesota College Athletic Conference play and 3-15 overall. They brought in six new players this season to replace the seven departing players from last year. As a two-year school, this sort of turnover is common.

“We had a number of players graduate last year, and then a couple that had either credits to move on or chose to transfer after just one year,” head coach Marie Johnson said. “That’s kind of the tough part about two year-school athletics. The players come in so quickly and they get comfortable and they leave right away again.”

Utilizing that many players who have never previously played a game together could prove tricky, but Johnson thinks the team is coming along and starting to gel.

“They’re working really well together,” Johnson said. “Their communication is coming together. They have a lot of experience and playing time amongst the eight of them.

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“Down the road this season, we’re going to see better communication and a higher comfort level with the players, once they start to know each other and know the style of play.”

While none of the players played together in high school, they should be pretty familiar with each other as the majority of the squad is composed of local-area players. It features players from Adrian, Mountain Lake Area, Okoboji, Harris-Lake Park and Sibley-Ocheyedan. Two girls played at H-LP but were not on the varsity squad at the same time.

As well as trying to get to know brand new teammates, many of the girls have to adjust to new and different positions from the ones they played in high school.

Nichole Rowe from H-LP played right side and setter in high school, but will now be playing middle hitter where the team can utilize her length and vertical leap. Katherin Ihnen will see a similar transition as she moves from outside hitter to middle hitter.

“There are a few players that have been transitioned to new positions that they didn’t play in high school,” Johnson said. “They are adjusting really well and really quickly. They have been working together very well and they’re scrappy.”

Returning player Erin Swenson faces a more natural transition. After spending 2015 as an outside hitter, she is moving back to the defensive libero position she played in high school at Sibley-Ocheyedan.

“I’m going back to the old spot,” Swenson said. “I love it, I’m used to it. It was my favorite spot ever. I like to dive and go after balls, and the fact that I get to do that again is exciting.”

The Lady Jays face a tall test in their opener on Wednesday in a showdown with defending NJCAA Division III national champion Rochester. The Yellowjackets come into the match having already played four times, sporting a 1-3 record after playing at the Battle of the Dells tournament in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Their victory came against Lake Michigan College, while they lost to North Iowa Area Community College, Harper College and Madison College.

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Rochester finished 2015 with a 14-0 division record and a 22-6 overall record. It defeated Brookhaven College from Farmers Branch, Texas 3-1 to win the championship.

“We are definitely excited to start the season,” Johnson said. “There has been a lot of practice. Rochester is always a huge opponent for us. They are a very strong program year after year.”

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
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