Esko is back at state volleyball tourney after 6-year waitDesiree DeLeon has been through this before.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
Desiree DeLeon has been through this before.
No, not preparing to coach a team in the high school volleyball state tournament — she did that at Cook in 2001 — but deciding whether to remain as Esko’s coach after this season.
A year after watching her alma mater make its state tournament debut in 2004, DeLeon was hired to coach the Eskomos. But when her husband, Tony, was hired as a physical education instructor at an elementary school in Murfreesboro, Tenn., DeLeon had to resign before ever stepping onto the court.
“It was hard,” she said. “My family is from here, and I didn’t necessarily want to leave. But, to be honest, it wasn’t a bad experience and I didn’t anticipate coming back.”
Two years later, however, she was back in the Northland and back coaching the Eskomos, who today return to the state tournament for the first time in six years. Esko (28-1) meets Stewartville (25-5) in a 5 p.m. Class AA quarterfinal at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
At some point following the tournament, DeLeon will need to make another life decision. Shortly before the school year, Tony DeLeon took a full-time teaching position in central Florida.
“He’s there and I’m here, so we’ll have to come to some kind of a decision after this year,” said DeLeon, a substitute teacher who takes care of the couple’s two young children. “I don’t want to go, but we have to do what’s best for our family.”
Players appreciate what she’s done for the program in her brief time there.
“She’s a super, amazing coach,” junior outside hitter Stephanie Bandelin said. “Whatever works out for her is what we’ll have to deal with. I’d love for her to come back.”
Senior Keely Deadrick was there as a freshman when DeLeon started, and it’s possible the pair might finish together.
“She’s done a great job with all of us, and it’s been a really fun four years being on her team,” said Deadrick, the team’s setter.
Esko went 1-2 in 2004, losing in the fifth-place match. A win today would put the Eskomos in their first semifinals.
“They have grown in their mental game tremendously from the previous year,” DeLeon said. “Hopefully, they’ll bring that into the game and not have that fear factor and be too nervous. If we do that, we can be competitive and maybe come out with a win.”
Hanson helps Cherry make history
In October 2009, Morgan Hanson transferred from a high school with a rich volleyball tradition (Washburn, Wis.) to one with little tradition (Cherry). She didn’t play the sport at either school that season, however.
The time off hasn’t seemed to hurt Hanson, who leads her new team into its first state tournament today. Cherry (22-2) meets second-seeded Wabasha-Kellogg (30-1) at 3 p.m. in a Class A quarterfinal.
After two years on the varsity at Washburn, including starting as a sophomore, Hanson moved in with her father, Dayton Hanson, in the small town of Zim. Due to open enrollment, she could have attended Virginia, Mountain Iron-Buhl, AlBrook, Cotton or Cherry.
“My parents gave me a choice, and I chose Cherry,” she said. “I heard a lot of good things about Cherry.”
One of those things could have been about the volleyball team’s potential. Despite never having qualified for the state tournament, the Tigers returned an athletic and experienced group that was a definite contender. Hanson’s addition made them better.
“Cherry has definitely challenged me to do my best,” said Hanson, a senior outside hitter with a team-high 371 kills this season.
Tigers coach Pam Pioske said Hanson, who did play Junior Olympics volleyball in the offseason, still needed to shake off the rust once this season began.
“For her not to have played last year and to come out as a senior and play as well as she has is pretty amazing,” Pioske said. “When Morgan started the season, she was above average but nothing like she is playing now. Her improvement over the whole season is 110 percent.”
Now she’s focused on helping Cherry to another first: a state tournament win.
“It’s definitely the best start of a senior year I could have imagined,” she said. “If we can go into it confidently, we’ll do all right.”