Eskomos work to keep strong reputation on the courtIn August, high school volleyball teams have different ways of finding their early-season groove. Deadening drills, constant conditioning and long days in the gym are usual. Esko does them all.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
In August, high school volleyball teams have different ways of finding their early-season groove. Deadening drills, constant conditioning and long days in the gym are usual. Esko does them all.
Esko senior Kallyn Knutson’s family cabin works well, too.
Starting last season, the Eskomos have made the nearly four-hour trip to Battle Lake, Minn., to take part in nearby scrimmages and spend a few days at the Knutson’s family getaway home.
“It’s a fun time for the girls,” said sixth-year Esko Coach Desiree DeLeon of her starting libero’s haven in west central Minnesota. “It’s good for us. We have a good time down there.”
The Eskomos opened practice Monday, and as the local juggernaut seeks to defend back-to-back section titles and state tournament appearances, Esko will again reload a talented program.
Placing state consolation runner-up a season ago, Esko graduated six seniors, including Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Stephanie Bandelin, now playing at St. Cloud State University. The Eskomos look to fill four starting positions this fall, with only Knutson and fellow senior outside hitter Amanda Belden as returnees.
“We have some options and versatility,” DeLeon said. “It’ll take some time, yes, but it’s just a matter of having them on the court. We are just really blessed to have some very good volleyball players.”
Both Knutson and Belden sit atop that list. Each is entering her third year on the varsity team, and both play for the Minnesota North 18-and-Under Junior Olympic program in the spring.
Belden is a quiet-spoken, 5-foot-9 hitter with a lightning-fast swing and high vertical, while Knutson is a defensive sparkplug who stands just 5-foot-5, but has a loud, assertive tone, according to DeLeon.
“Kallyn has the ability to lead with her voice,” she said. “Amanda is quiet, yet the girls look up to her. Both are different types of leaders for us. They have the experience and have played a lot of volleyball.”
Although Esko fields just four seniors with Belden, Knutson, Nikki Mitchell and Danielle Birkhofer, Belden said the team is looking good thus far. She said in the summer they hosted camps every Thursday, while they played Esko League every Monday, winning the title again.
“We like to take that every year,” Belden said of their summer league championship. “We’re a very passionate group that plays hard. The gym was hot today with a bunch of drills. I was always sweating.”
Sweaty or not, Belden said the team’s goal this year hasn’t changed from years past: Get back to state.
“I’m hoping we can go again,” Belden said. “I think we’ll be pretty decent. We’re all fired up and have a lot of girls trying very hard.”
DeLeon said her girls will be taking it one week, one match and one practice at a time. From her view, her girls are practicing fiercely.
Esko’s season-opener will come at Hermantown Aug. 28.
“This team has not all played together much before,” said Knutson. “We’re young and have a lot to work up to, but we have a lot of talent. It will just take us some time to come together as a team.”
Once they get back from her cabin.