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Lumberjacks team boasts experience, depth

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The problem most teams have in pre-season training is that they are anxious to play against someone in a different colored uniform. The Cloquet volleyball team has the opposite problem — they are looking forward to practice time by themselves.

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The team has played 14 scrimmages and two jamboree matches since last Saturday, and 11th-year head Coach Heidi Anderson says her players are ready to practice.

“We hosted the Section 7AA scrimmage on Monday which had every section team here except Two Harbors and we played eight scrimmages,” Anderson said. “Saturday we went to Hibbing where they have about 20 teams come every year and we played six scrimmages. We’re looking forward to some practice time.”

The team then went out and beat both Denfeld and Hermantown in the Lake Superior Conference Jamboree on Tuesday night.

While all the floortime is good for the players, Anderson says the early season is all about teaching fundamentals.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time working on ball control, passing and defense,” Anderson said. “We’re better in those areas now than we were last year already, and we can run a much quicker offense because our passing is there.”

Olivia Mayasich, Sammy Zeadow and Chandler Beaupre are key losses to graduation from last year’s team but this year’s team has not only three more seniors but a talented and large underclass.

Nine letterwinners return from last year with Alex Oakes, Sami Westendorf and Katie Zezulka, the team’s seniors. They are joined by former Esko middle hitter Anna Hansmeyer, who changed schools and had to sit out last season.

“Alex has played for us since seventh trade and Sami since eighth grade,” Anderson said. “They have great experience. Katie has started since her freshman year and is our lead setter, and Kassidy Steen is our middle hitter and captain as a junior. We have quite a group of experienced players.”

Seven of the varsity players are juniors, and many of them have played together since fifth grade.

“Lots of girls played JO (Junior Olympics) in the past and this year we started our own team,” Anderson said. “It’s good to get people going in the spring and playing together so they are used to each other in the fall. So we hit the ground running.”

For Anderson, that means the all-important fundamental work is that much easier to implement.

“You always work on fundamentals,” she said. “Passing, serving, that wins games at any level.”

With such an experienced group of players, Anderson says the team has a keen sense of identity already.

“One of the things we talked about was being intentional with what we are doing, not leaving things to chance,” Anderson said. “We hope to have success and things will work out because we planned it that way for our coaching staff and program. Off season, the girls have been talking about what we want to stand for, how do we want to be known, what does hard work look like, those things. It is a work in progress but it is ground work.”

Anderson said Tuesday’s opener against Duluth East will determine how far the team has come.

“They have had some turnover in their program the last couple of years, so we don’t know much about them,” she said. “They are traditionally tough, though. We’re going to try the John Wooden approach and just take care of business on our end.”

Anderson has a sense of quiet excitement about the coming season.

“We’ve had a good few days,” she said. “I’m surprised at how solid we are in positions 1-12 on our team. Everyone is working really hard and sometimes when you aren’t the starter that is hard, but we’ve seen what the conference and section look like and everyone is pushing for playing time.”