OKABENA — Elly Bang is an excellent senior athlete whose volleyball skills include quickness, strength and smarts.
But the Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda setter’s best attribute is something else entirely.
“Her attitude and determination make her a special player,” said Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda volleyball coach Trista Rhubee. “She’s like the perfect person to be in that position, because a setter has to be 'on’ all the time. And if they’re not 'on’ and maintaining a good attitude, it can destroy teams.”
The HL-O/Fulda volleyball squad has been conquering its competition this fall thanks to a roster led by Bang, a four-year starter who has surpassed the 2,000 mark in career set assists. The 5-foot-10 Bang and her Coyote teammates were 17-4 through last weekend, with just one match left in the regular season.
A setter is the center of a volleyball team, and in Bang the Coyotes have a great one.
“She’s so good at maintaining a positive attitude and pushing herself to get better,” Rhubee said. “It really raises up the other girls around her.”
She’s also a top-notch athlete.
“Elly’s quick and just mentally understands the game,” Rhubee said. “She knows where the holes are in the other team’s defense. So her smarts and quickness combined really help.”
Bang says she’s having a blast with her buddies.
“I get along really well with all of my teammates and we’re really good at communicating with each other,” she said. “We’re the kind of team that never gets mad at each other, and that really helps.”
Rhubee was a standout hitter on superb Windom Area High teams back in the day, and she knows the importance of solid setting. It turns out the best setters also have thick skin.
“A setter has to be able to take criticism,” Rhubee said. “They have to have that grace to put up a really soft set for the hitters and they have to have perfect placement. And each hitter likes to have those sets in their own perfect spot, so they’ve got to be communicating — and taking criticism both from me and the hitters.”
The Wildcats run a 5-1 offense, with Bang the lone setter. So she’s involved in the HL-O/Fulda matches from start to finish. Also a reliable server and solid defensive player, Bang is one of the best volleyball players in the region.
She’s also a standout hockey player. In fact, Bang is one of several HL-O/Fulda volleyball stars who play on the girls hockey team at Windom Area High.
Do the sports complement each other?
“Leg strength is a very important thing in both of them,” Bang said. “Honestly they’re pretty different. But they’re both fun and I like the difference between the two. Both are very team-oriented. You can’t do them by yourself.”
The best hockey players are tough. The best volleyball athletes, said Bang, are tough-minded.
“It’s an extremely mental sport, at least for me, so I have to focus a lot more on the mental aspect of volleyball compared to hockey,” she explained.
The Coyotes have several stars around Bang on the volleyball team. Among them are sophomore outside hitter Samantha Untiedt, sophomore libero Emma Rasche, and senior middle blocker Taryn Evers. Other seniors on the squad include Madelyn Koep, Chrissy Hermeling, Taylor Haberman, Emily Madison and Addison Fisher.
“We have a great group of girls that enjoy volleyball,” Rhubee said. “They’re not getting sick of it here toward the end of the season. They continue to show up and want to improve every day. And they have so much fun with each other.”
Bang has a sister, sophomore Marenna Bang, on the Wildcat volleyball team. Their father, Paul Bang, is the HL-O superintendent.
Next fall, Elly plans to attend college and, perhaps, change her priorities. She might not play volleyball or hockey, instead focusing on academics. That means this fall and winter are very important for the lasting sports memories they might offer.
“It’s so much fun to have a successful volleyball season,” Elly said. “It’s really nice to see the hard work that all these girls have put in paying off. I’ve grown up with this team for so long and have seen them all work hard constantly in practice. It’s so satisfying to finally see that success in games, too. It’s really fun.”