Thunder team optimistic with freshmen talentThe Thunder will feature arguably their strongest recruiting class yet; Marita Yellowhammer is one of just nine incoming freshmen.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Joining the sport in sixth grade, Marita Yellowhammer thoroughly enjoyed playing volleyball. Now a Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College freshman, she plans to keep playing as long as she can.
“I just remember playing a lot during family time,” said Yellowhammer, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter who started for three seasons on the Carlton varsity team. “The game just sucked me right in.”
Looking at the Thunder, they have a number of young talented players “sucked in” to the growing program. In arguably their strongest recruiting class yet, Yellowhammer is one of just nine incoming freshmen.
South Ridge’s Kourtney Karppinen, Barnum’s Candice Paulson and Cromwell-Wright’s MaKayleigh Cahoon join Yellowhammer to display a tall, front-row presence like the college has never seen. Thunder Coach Laura Sylvester said a speedier attack will be certain nowadays.
“We’re going to be very strong and able to run a quicker offense to create more scoring opportunities,” said Sylvester, a former AlBrook graduate now in her third season coaching the fourth-year program. “We have a good mix. We’re going to be a fast, fun team to watch.”
“Just seeing all of us girls at practice, I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Yellowhammer added. “There’s definitely room to improve, but we’re confident that we’ll get things worked out together.”
Sylvester said practice – which officially started Aug. 14 – has been rolling along in anticipation for the team’s home opener against Minnesota College Athletic Conference arch-rival Vermilion at 6:30 p.m. Aug 29.
Cromwell-Wright’s Dayna Elmer is the squad’s lone sophomore returnee, so FDLTCC sports nine freshmen on its 10-girl roster. Sylvester noted many attended nearby high schools last year and are teammates for the first time.
“The girls have been so upbeat and have meshed together quickly,” Sylvester said. “They’ve been working hard, but are really having some fun at practice, which is nice. They’re anxious to play some volleyball.”
For still a young program that won just three matches a season ago, Sylvester said the team’s goal is to be in the postseason hunt this fall, ultimately qualifying for the school’s inaugural playoff berth.
“Our expectations are to make some waves in the conference and be in the mix; I think it’s doable” said Sylvester, who was also recently named the school’s new softball head coach, too. “The girls are jumping in together and they’re catching on to the college game quite quickly.”
Sylvester, who was an assistant last year, will be assisted by Loran Wappes, who has been with the program since its start. The two were co-coaches last year and will work together again this season.
Wappes said although the MCAC was as tough as ever last year, FDLTCC made gains, earning its first-ever conference victory.
Graduating libero Rachel Sanda, setter Rita Aspinwall and hitters Holly Nelson of Carlton and Amber Gregg of Cloquet, FDLTCC will be less experienced this year, yet Wappes is optimistic about their chances.
“We have a very coachable group that all seem like they want to be here,” Wappes said. “We have some athletes. Last year was strong for us but I expect us this year we’ll contend to be in the playoffs.”
“I’ve had a lot of fun so far,” added Yellowhammer. “Our passing is good and we have some arms I didn’t expect. I think we’ll be ready to go.”