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Nine is the magic number for Thunder

The Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College volleyball team is ready to face someone in a different colored jersey and will start its pre-season on Tuesday night in Ely against Vermilion Community College.

Fourth-year Coach Laura Sylvester has only nine players out for this year's team, and that will pose some significant challenges.

"That's a low number," Sylvester said. "We keep encouraging girls to come out, but lots don't play volleyball after high school. The players we have are very dedicated, but it's tough to get a larger number out."

Two of the nine players are returners, though, and they are two of the better players from last season's team. Outside hitter MaKayleigh Cahoon of Cromwell-Wright and middle hitter Kourtney Karppinen of South Ridge will provide experience and punch in the front line.

"Two of our top players are returning from last year, so that is huge," Sylvester said.

Of course, having only nine players on the team presents coaching challenges too.

"We have a short bench and the players don't all come from the same school so we have a new system for them to learn," Sylvester said. "We are getting them to buy into something that is new to them."

As always, Sylvester will rely heavily on assistant coach Loren Wappes, who has been with the program since its inception.

"We are getting better at [coaching the team]," Sylvester said. "We know how to clarify expectations and keep it all constant for the girls so they know what we expect. Loren is a huge help."

As was the case last season, the schedule is heavily skewed in terms of consecutive home and road matches. Seven of the team's first nine matches will be at home and six of the last seven will be on the road.

The team's first home match of the season is Friday, Sept. 6, against Hibbing, with a trip to Northland College Sept. 13-14 for a tournament that will give the team five matches in two days.

"We'll be road warriors at the end of the year and we need to be mentally tough," Sylvester said.

The team's goals are simple.

"We want to be competitive in every match and though it's hard to talk wins and losses, we want to win, have fun and play together," Sylvester said. "We have a great group of girls and I'm excited to be getting started, but we know we have to stay healthy and we need every single one of the players to show up ready to play each and every game."