Freshman serves up Polar League sweep for Carlton volleyballSoftball doesn’t start until next spring, but Grace Macor likes to warm up her right arm by playing her other favorite sport in the fall: volleyball. As fierce as the Carlton freshman pitcher throws on the diamond, the 15-year-old serves just as vigorously on the court.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CARLTON – Softball doesn’t start until next spring, but Grace Macor likes to warm up her right arm by playing her other favorite sport in the fall: volleyball.
As fierce as the Carlton freshman pitcher throws on the diamond, the 15-year-old serves just as vigorously on the court.
Last Thursday night, Macor registered an unprecedented 18 ace serves to pace her Bulldogs to an entertaining 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-22) Polar League sweep of Wrenshall before a packed audience in Carlton.
“You just have to snap your wrist,” said Macor, comparing serving with pitching. “They say there’s a correlation there.”
Exchanging blows with their small-town neighbors, the Bulldogs pulled away last week when Macor went on a seemingly endless spurt where she scored 12 straight service points in the second set, before Wrenshall – after using both timeouts – finally got the ball back in their hands.
“I was hoping that she could go all the way,” said Carlton senior Alanna Groth. Macor’s serving stretch turned a 5-3 lead into 17-3 lead. “When she’s on, she gets on fire.”
“That’s pretty good for anybody,” added 34-year Carlton Coach Barb Soukkala about Macor’s run. “That was one of the longer streaks I’ve seen coaching.”
Despite the differences in arm deliveries, Macor said that serving is much like pitching. She’s had to work at her technique and, despite some struggles, Soukkala said her 5-foot-11 middle hitter puts in plenty of work to perfect her skills.
“You never have to tell her anything twice,” Soukkala said. “She really pushes herself and works hard at practice. She’s a good athlete.”
Groth and fellow senior Marita Yellowhammer led Carlton (10-15) last week with eight kills each.
Macor is one of nine underclassmen on the Bulldogs roster, and they are still getting used to each other on the floor.
“We’re young,” said Macor, in her first full-time duty with the varsity this year. “But we have a lot of dedicated players and we’re all athletic. We’re trying to catch up to the older teams. I think in a couple years we’ll be right there with them.”
Groth compared this fall to a rollercoaster ride. Some days they come to play. Others they don’t.
“We’re all over the place,” she said. “One day we’ll go to practice and it’ll be like ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ and the next day it’ll be like ‘What team was that?’ There honestly can be two different teams.”
But Groth knows if the pieces fall in place, they can be a contender sooner than later.
“We have to play our game, the whole game,” she said. “If we play our game, I think we can go far in playoffs. But we can’t have that one slump.”
Although it’s been a re-building year for Soukkala, the longtime coach is optimistic.
“We keep working at it and we’re getting better,” she said as her Carlton bunch closed the regular season Tuesday with a 3-1 loss against Deer River. “There’s still a lot to clean up, but there’s a lot of potential there.”
As is the case for the Wrens.
Although winless since 2009, not winning a single set all last fall and a total of three sets this season, the young Wrens are much more competitive than in years past.
“They’re much better,” Soukkala agreed.
Fighting their ways through losing seasons and long stretches of drought, Wrenshall Coach Denise North said it’s been her girls’ attitudes that have kept the ship afloat.
“It’s been a tough year,” she said last week, “but they have all done a great job not getting down on themselves and each other. Even if a girl is having a tough night, they support her and make sure no one gets down.”
The supportive Wrens (0-15) have a mix of upperclassmen, but North said they have been getting major contributions from their class of eighth-graders filling spots lately.
A week ago, seniors Maria Burcar, Natalie Peaney and Samantha Oland were solid, as Burcar had nine kills, while Peaney and Oland were perfect serving. Freshman setter Chloe Swanson was also 11-for-11 serving, with 15 digs and six kills in defeat.
“They have some good athletic ability and are tough,” said North of her Wrens, which closed their regular season schedule with a 3-0 loss at Cromwell-Wright Tuesday night. “They haven’t won a match, so it’s been difficult for them to stay positive, but they’ve done a great job at just enjoying volleyball.”
Losing Burcar’s 6-foot-2 presence at the net after this fall, the Wrens will be much smaller in the height department. Nonetheless, North is confident in the program’s future.
“We’re going to be little, short, small, tiny, whatever you want to say,” said North. “In volleyball, height matters. But this is a great group of girls. They’re really a fun group.”