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Expectations high for Lady Jays volleyball

Minnesota West Volleyball
Minnesota West sophomore volleyball players for 2019 are (from left) Haley Unke, Kiana Leighty, Shelby Pourier, Emma Woelber and Stephanie Pizano. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Even before the Minnesota West Community and Technical College volleyball team gets its start on the regular season, optimism is high. After getting by with just eight players last season, there are 18 in camp for 2019.

“We’re really excited because we have way more options. I think we’re going to be more spread out as a team, and we’re going to give girls more opportunities,” said sophomore veteran Kiana Leighty.

“More people to set to, rather than two girls last year,” added Haley Unke, another sophomore leader.

Head coach Brittney McNab oversees a team with balance -- on the front row, the back row, in the middle and on the sides.

“I think we have depth in every position. And I think our back row with Grace (Woelber) and Kiana will be unbelievably solid. And just having Emma (Woelber) back to run the floor with our hitters,” McNab gushed.

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The sophomore leaders include Leighty, a 5-7 outside hitter from Brewster; Unke, a 5-4 setter and right side hitter from Cottonwood; Stephanie Pizarro, a 5-foot defensive specialist from Puerto Rico; Shelby Pourier, a 5-8 middle hitter from Pine Ridge, S.D.; and Emma Woelber, a 5-2 third-year sophomore setter from Westbrook who took last year off.

Her younger sister, Grace, is a freshman libero who McNab says can pick up any ball and make it look easy.

Several other freshmen should make an impact, including Teylor Albers, a 5-6 outside hitter from Bismarck, N.D., whose athleticism is intriguing. Alanna Goetzinger, a 5-11 middle hitter from Chatfield, has a powerful swing. And Bri Ihnen, a 5-8 hitter from Lake Park, Iowa, is strong, consistent and smart.

Minnesota West opens the season Friday and Saturday in St. Cloud. On Friday, the Lady Jays contend with Mesabi Range and Northland, and on Saturday they take on Rainy River and Hibbing. There is a fuller schedule for 2019, which includes matches against Central College, Iowa Lakes Community College, and North Iowa Community College of Mason City, Iowa.

Last season, the Lady Jays struggled at times with on-court communication. But Unke and Leighty don’t see that as a problem this fall.

“We’re a lot closer than we were last year. There’s a lot more communication with us,” said Leighty.

“There’s more of a connection, which is going to be more helpful,” added Unke, who added, “I think this year is a fresh start. I think it’s going to be really good for us to grow as a team.”

McNab agrees. The players are getting along beautifully in practice. There is a friendly team atmosphere shared by everyone.

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This 2019 unit will miss their dominant front row player, Andrea Hinkeldey, who has graduated. But it should get by with depth and balance.

“Our back row passing, they pick up everything,” McNab said. “Our back row is very consistent, and our hitters can put the ball away.”

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Thursday night high school sports roundup:
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Trailing at halftime, the Worthington High School girls basketball team outscored Albert Lea 49-27 in the second half Thursday night in Worthington
The Minnesota West men's basketball team was defeated by conference opponent Rochester Wednesday night. Bie Ruei had a big night with 26 points and four assists.