Volleyball PreviewA brief look at area high school volleyball teams as they prepare for the season.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Jessie Stanslaski is used to playing volleyball in a gym. But when the June flood ruined the Carlton High School flooring, she and her teammates decided to improvise.
“We just played at the Carlton sand courts; we scrimmaged against the Cloquet girls,” said Stanslaski, a 5-foot-9 sophomore middle hitter. “We played all summer long, too. We can play anywhere.”
That’s why it’s no problem for the Bulldogs to adjust here in August. With the gym floor still being replaced, Carlton began practice Monday at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
They’re not having a problem looking on the bright side of the situation.
“There is air conditioning in their gym!” said 5-foot-11 middle hitter Grace Macor.
“They feed us the leftovers from the football team, too,” said longtime Carlton Coach Barb Soukkala, laughing. “They [FDLTCC] have been great hosts.”
Venues aside, Soukkala said her team is looking stealthy early on. Alongside Macor – entering her third season on the varsity for the Bulldogs – and Stanslaski, Soukkala said around half a dozen of her youthful players return with experience to a squad that went 12-15 a season ago.
Alanna Groth and Marita Yellowhammer were the lone graduates, while heavy-hitting senior Clarissa Nelson is back after taking a year away from the sport.
“They have all of the ingredients that they need to go as far as they want to,” Soukkala said. “They have the height, quickness and desire.”
Macor said that desire was evident over the summer. She explained that along with weekly offseason practices, she and her teammates took part in camps, Junior Olympics and the Esko League, where they even beat the league champion Esko team.
Carlton is readying for its season opener Sept. 6 at Polar League rival Barnum.
“We’re always ready to play volleyball,” said Macor. “There’s nothing like running out of the locker room to go play. We play a lot.”
“And we’re not using that we’re younger as an excuse anymore,” added Stanslaski, one of many underclassmen on the roster, who has been ride-sharing to the college lately. “The floor should be done before the season starts.”
If not, they’ll likely improvise and find a spot to play, no problem.
Barnum will seek to improve on its 4-20 mark from a season ago, as Coach Corina Newman enters her ninth season with the Bombers. Graduating just two players, Barnum returns experienced hitters Kelsey Wickstrom, MJ Anderson and Daron Mainville, along with libero Sage Miletich.
Cloquet graduated just a pair of starters from last year’s 16-12 squad, as experienced seniors Jenna Anderson, Abbie Anderson, Kristi Wappes, junior Olivia Mayasich and sophomores Alex Oakes, Sami Westendorf and libero Katie Zezulka all return this fall. Heading the Lumberjacks again, Heidi Anderson enters her ninth season with the program.
Cromwell-Wright will again be headed by longtime Coach Lori Wester, now in her 17th season. The Cardinals graduated five players from a year ago, yet welcome back senior hitters Brittany Johnson, Kayle Johnson and Ann Collman, as well as junior Samantha Suhonen. Senior Christina Stenson and junior Allie Cahoon will both set for the Cardinals, which went 10-9 last year.
Fond du Lac Ojibwe looks to improve on their half dozen wins a year ago, as the team graduated both Francene LaDeaux and Racquel White from a 10-girl roster last season. Coach Dale Sautbine, who began the small tribal program in 1983, enters his 29th season with the Ogichidaa.
Moose Lake-Willow River will again be coached by Beckie Jackson, now in her second season with the Rebels. Sporting a 4-22 mark a year ago, ML-WR is hoping for improvement after graduating just Olivia Bennett. Haley Johnson, Joelene Eaton and Miranda Jacobson all are returning.
South Ridge climbed all the way to the section semifinals a year ago, but the second-year school graduated 12 seniors from their 20-7 team. Coach Brad Olesiak, now in his fifth season with the former AlBrook program, said they welcome back all-conference sophomores Mikayla Olesiak (his daughter) and Justice Janke.
Wrenshall will be led by new Coach Andrea Ruth, as the Wrens look to jump forward from their winless 0-16 mark a year ago. Wrenshall graduated standout hitter Maria Burcar, but returns experience from past seasons. The team is aiming to post the program’s first match victory since 2009.