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Fire up: Trojan volleyball unit optimistic, with several key players returning for 2021

With several proven players in camp along with a few promising younger recruits, the Worthington High School volleyball team is optimistic heading into the 2021 season.

WORTHINGTON -- With several proven players in camp along with a few promising younger recruits, the Worthington High School volleyball team is optimistic heading into the 2021 season.

“We have a really positive outlook. We’re very optimistic,” said veteran head coach Jessica Hogan. “We feel we can put a very competitive group on the floor this year. Our first few matches will be finding that cohesiveness with each other.”

The Trojans open the regular season on Thursday at home against Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda. Next, it’s the Big South Conference Showcase at St. James on Saturday, then back home on Aug. 31 to face Austin.

Cohesiveness is always an important word in high school volleyball. In a sport where even the best teams tend to lose their focus at some point during a match, the Trojans are determined this year to stay sharp. To help make that happen, Hogan likes to break the game down into shorter segments in an attempt to keep minds from wandering.

The 2020 campaign is a worthy example how difficult it can be to finish off opponents. The Trojans were impressive in beating a tough Windom Area opponent at home in their second match of the season, but the good start wasn’t sustained. Worthington finished with a 1-11 record.

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“We were in a lot of matches last year. We just couldn’t get over the hump in a lot of them,” Hogan said. “We lost a lot of close matches and we weren’t able to close it out. I think this group will be able to pull out some of those closer matches. I think this group will have confidence.”

Back to lead the 2021 Trojans are three strong hitters, one unusually versatile athlete, and a back row specialist.

Tarren Spartz, a 6-0 junior hitter, is a noteworthy presence near the net who can attack from every angle. She is also an excellent server and solid in the back row. Ellie Weg is a junior middle hitter who also has great skill at the net. She will also do some setting.

Senior hitter Olivia Hayenga will be useful in a variety of places. An outstanding athlete, she has an exceptional vertical jump.

Another fine all-around athlete, senior Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor is a strong passer, a strong defensive player, and is more than capable on the front row. Wherever she is on the court, she can do any task that is asked.

Back-row specialist Karissa Maxwell is a senior who’s ready to come into her own. And 6-2 sophomore Madison Beckmann, who saw some varsity action as a freshman, is a good blocker who’s ready for a bigger role.

Two others, junior back row specialist Kamryn Spartz (a cousin of Tarren) and sophomore setter Addison Gerber can also help.

Hogan says this 2021 group reminds her of Worthington’s 2016 team, which was the last WHS volleyball squad to post a winning record (15-14). These 2021 players are dedicated, she explained, to the sport of volleyball. And the seniors do a good job of showing leadership.

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In practice, the Trojans are focusing on having good first touches on the ball. When a team can do that, it keeps them “in system” so they don’t need to scramble as often.

“We have the capability of being a strong hitting team. But that’s only going to come by having ball control. But we also have to improve our serve and serve receive,” Hogan said.

Playing in the tough Big South Conference, Worthington never has an easy time of it. Mental toughness is a firm requirement for winning.

“It takes a lot of mental toughness just to get through a match,” Hogan pointed out. “You can work and work and work and do everything right, and you only get a point. Then you go back and serve, and you have to go through it all again.”

081921 N DG Trojans Volleyball practice S3.jpg
Tarren Spartz demonstrates passing skills to teammates during a morning WHS volleyball practice session. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

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