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Lady Jays volleyball team hoping to make rivals take notice

Armed with veteran leadership and a strong group of freshmen coming in, the Minnesota West Community and Technical College volleyball team is expecting to win its fair share of matches in 2021. Even before the regular season begins, competition is fierce in practice as players fight for positions.

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Minnesota West Ladyjays volleyball seniors, from left, Mallory Thorson, Emily Wilke, Grace Suttle, Shelby Christensen and Coralis Ramos Ghamandi. Tim Middagh / The Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Armed with veteran leadership and a strong group of freshmen coming in, the Minnesota West Community and Technical College volleyball team is expecting to win its fair share of matches in 2021. Even before the regular season begins, competition is fierce in practice as players fight for positions.

“When they’re scrapping in practice, they’re going toe to toe to 25 (points),” said head coach Brittney McNab.

The season officially begins on Aug. 27 at the Anoka-Ramsey Crossover Tournament. West will open in a 2 p.m. match against Northland, then play a 7 p.m. match against Rainy River. Two more contests are scheduled against Central Lakes and Mesabi on the 28th.

The fall schedule is an odd one, with September heavily packed with home matches and October stacked mostly with road trips.

What really matters, however, is that the Lady Jays will play volleyball this fall after a season where COVID-19 wiped the slate clean.

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“Last year when I got the call I was just devastated because volleyball was kind of like my favorite sport,” recalled second-year West player Shelby Christensen, who along with another two-sport star, teammate Mallory Thorson, was only able to play basketball in her freshman year.

“I was actually debating whether I should play, with the year off,” said Thorson. “But volleyball was one of my favorite sports in high school. And all my friends are doing it. Can’t let ‘em down.”

Thorson, from Luverne, and Christensen, a Murray County Central graduate, will be joined this year by three other veterans, Emily Wilke (Le Sueur), Grace Suttle (Tri-Valley) and Carolis Ramos (Puerto Rico). All three are strong leaders. Wilke shows her versatility as both a setter and a hitter, and Suttle is a scrappy back-row player. Ramos is a hard hitter.

A solid freshman class, bringing the Jays’ numbers to at least 15, will surely be used. Among them are Kennedy Buchenberg (5-9 hitter; Garretson, S.D.), Dannyn Peterson (5-9 hitter; Tulare, S.D.), Emily Dunlop (5-10 hitter; Martin County West) and Emma Keith (hitter-setter; Tri-Valley).

Buchenberg is described as a consistent player who reads the court well. Peterson is a left-hander and solid right-side hitter who can block. Dunlop has outstanding hands, swings hard from the middle and blocks well. Keith, a late recruit, is well-rounded and could find a home at setter.

“It’s a well-rounded group. Those freshmen are going to bring a lot to the floor. I think we’ll be competitive. Very hard-hitting. They swing away,”McNab said.

Expect an aggressive team. Though the Jays’ height isn’t outstanding, their attitude is to swing for the fences.

The back-row players are scrappy, McNab said. “They just have that mentality to pick up the ball.”

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Suttle, for one, is just glad to be back on the floor after what became a somewhat surreal fall of 2020.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere from last year to this year,” she said. “It was kind of barren on campus. There was just no one here.”

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Minnesota West Ladyjays Mallory Thorson, on left and Shelby Christensen volley back and forth with teammates during aTuesday morning practice. Tim Middagh / The Globe

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