Wrens learn winnng waysBefore last Thursday’s 3-0 sweep over Lakeview Christian Academy, the Wrens’ last match victory was in 2009 over Two Harbors. However, they lost 3-0 (25-9, 25-17, 25-15) at Polar League juggernaut Esko Tuesday evening.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
A varsity setter since eighth grade, Chloe Swanson not only has soft hands near the volleyball net, but a gentle heart when helping kids.
Perhaps that’s why she and her teammates didn’t hesitate to teach junior high players the sport last week before a final coach was hired.
“They came to practice and we taught them their approach to hitting and helped with their hands on bumping, setting and serving,” Swanson said. “I’ve thought it might be fun to be a coach or teacher when I get older. But most of those girls had played before, so I guess that helped.”
While just over the ages of most junior high teams, the Wrenshall varsity has played a lot. The 15-year-old Swanson is one of five starting underclassmen on a tiny Polar League team that has no seniors, a handful of juniors and the rest sophomores and freshmen.
“It can be intimidating,” said Swanson, whose younger sister, freshman Tatum, is also a starting varsity middle hitter. “But we work well together. Most of us have been playing since fifth and sixth grade.”
Chloe had four set assists and Tatum added three kills and a pair of blocks in a 3-0 loss (25-9, 25-17, 25-15) at Polar League juggernaut Esko Tuesday evening. Although shy, Chloe is upbeat about her team.
“I know we can get a couple of wins; I think we can do it,” she said. “We go out there and have fun. And that’s what we’ve done.”
“For sure, there are girls who are more vocal, but Chloe is a leader by example,” added first-year Wrens Coach Andrea Ruth. “She’s gives it 110 percent all the time. She’s fun to watch. Just a great role model.”
That leadership and never-say-quit attitude has kept the small-town program together through recent struggles. Before last Thursday’s 3-0 sweep over Lakeview Christian Academy, the Wrens’ last match victory was in 2009 over Two Harbors. They had only won eight sets over their last three seasons and lost 47 consecutive matches.
“It’s been hard, but we didn’t let it get us down,” Chloe said. “We work together well and all just get along.”
That’s what Ruth noticed when she first came to Wrenshall. A first-grade teacher at the school, Ruth took over for former longtime coach Denise North. Ruth, a 2000 graduate of Duluth Central, played four years for the Trojans and coached youth volleyball in Duluth before bringing her experience to Wrenshall this past summer.
“Volleyball is my thing; I love it and want to carry that over to them,” she said. “These girls work hard. They are very young, but they want to do drills. They want to learn. They want to win. That’s fun.”
Beside the Swanson sisters, Ruth said freshmen Keeley Shae Dianoski, Delaney Kittel, Shanna Laveau and Kaitlyn Kelley all play, along with juniors Rachel Tyson, Taylor Lund and Brittney O’Brien.
Hosting LCA in their next match at home Sept. 11, Ruth said topping the Lions last week was a neat scene for all
“I wanted them to enjoy it and be proud of themselves,” Ruth said of her team, led by Chloe’s 12 set assists and Tatum’s nine kills. “I was so proud. The JV won, too. It was exciting to get a first feel of
Victories aren’t uncommon in Esko, on the other hand. Back-to-back state entrants in 2010 and 2011, the Eskomos have won 56 of 66 matches over that span, while they have 26 straight conference wins dating back to 2009. Tuesday they had no problem with Wrenshall in their high school’s field house, as the paint continued to dry in the main gym.
Amanda Belden, Kallyn Knutson, Danielle Birkhofer and Nikki Mitchell are the only seniors on a team that is looking to find its groove following an opening day defeat at Hermantown last Tuesday. In the sweep, Esko never scored more than 19 points.
“We got beat that night,” said sixth-year Coach Desiree DeLeon. “Nobody likes to lose, but sometimes it refocuses you on what to work on. We just need to get more games together, and that comes with time.”
DeLeon said Mitchell, a 5-foot-8 well-balanced hitter, had her best game against the Hawks last week. As Esko rebuilds from the loss of a sturdy senior class a year ago – including Duluth News Tribune All Area Player of the Year Stephanie Bandelin, now playing at St. Cloud State University – Mitchell said the team is working things around.
“Going to state was an experience last year,” said Mitchell, who also plays Junior Olympic volleyball in the spring. “We know we’re not last year’s team, but we all believe that we can get back there. We just have to play more and I think we’ll be just fine.
“[Hermantown] was definitely a good team,” Mitchell continued, “but we didn’t give up. We just have to come together as a team more and play up to our full potential.”
Mitchell contributed last fall and will carry the workload with Belden as go-to hitters this season. Belden sat out Tuesday with a sore shoulder and is likely to return soon, according to DeLeon.
DeLeon said her players, like Mitchell, have time to hone their skills and still be at their best come early November.
“I know she loves volleyball and is a good athlete, but there is still more that can come out of her in the game,” DeLeon said confidently of Mitchell. “And I believe she can improve and get better.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” she added about her team, which will next host Cook County Thursday and head to Virginia Sept. 11. “I don’t think anyone believes that we’re down and out.”