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VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Teams aim to build skills, teamwork early in season

The area volleyball season is just getting underway, with the three largest Carlton County teams looking to make consistency and improvement hallmarks for their season.

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Cloquet junior middle hitter Lily Sinkkonen makes a kill at Duluth East in the Lumberjacks' season opening volleyball match. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

The area volleyball season is just getting underway, with the three largest Carlton County teams looking to make consistency and improvement hallmarks for their season.

Heidi Anderson’s Cloquet team graduated a lot of talent last season - too much, in fact, to dwell upon. This year’s team has only two seniors on their 10-player roster, but there’s no reason to think her team won’t be around at the end.

“We only have two seniors, that’s true,” Anderson said, “but our job as coaches is to put these players in positions where they can succeed. The joy of having players the last few years that have been around for awhile is gone, but there is a different joy this year in that every time these girls leave the floor, they’re getting better.”

The team plays its home opener Thursday, Sept. 1, against Duluth Marshall and the younger players are going to get a quick education, in more ways than one.

“The speed of everything is faster at the varsity level, from practice to games,” Anderson said. “Getting the newcomers up to speed takes a while but it will come.”

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The other area of quick education is literal - as in teaching the players how to run a “fast” offense. That refers to accurate passing off service receive and setting the ball to a slightly lower height so there is less time for the opposing defense to react for a block at the net or a dig on the defensive side of the floor.

“We can’t run a fast offense quite yet, which means we are a little easier to defend,” Anderson said. “Teams like Proctor and Hibbing and Esko and the other top teams usually do that. We ran a quicker offense last year with senior setters and experienced hitters, but we aren’t to that point yet. It adds to the challenge for us.

“We only get to defend against a fast attack in games since we can’t practice it yet,” Anderson added. “On the positive side, we have done a lot of work on our team culture in the last couple of seasons so we know what we need to do and we know that there’s work to be done.”

Cloquet’s seniors are libero Callie Holm and middle hitter Erin Dahnke, who left Tuesday’s game at Duluth East with an injury.

“We’re excited about improving,” Anderson said. “Wins and losses are going to come and go but we played Hermantown very tough in our jamboree and what we want is to play our best at the end of the season. If we are doing that, we can compete with anybody - and that is within these kids.”

Over in Esko, coach Desiree DeLeon has six seniors on her team but the Eskomos are counting on a real team dynamic to carry them through this fall.

“We have a work in progress,” she said. “We have leadership from some older girls and have some nice team chemistry. They are on the same page as players and with girls that doesn’t always happen. We have talent and not a lot of drama so that’s good.”

Outside hitter Judy Wagemaker is back from an ACL injury suffered last season to serve as a co-captain along with defensive specialist Neena Magnuson. Players elected the team captains for the first time this year and DeLeon sees positives with both.

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“Judy has such leadership qualities but volleyball I think is her favorite sport and that’s contagious,” DeLeon said. “The girls feed off that and she is a solid player. She walks the walk and talks the talk. She brings leadership and love of the game and all the things you want a leader to bring.”

Magnuson won’t see as much of the floor as a defensive specialist, but DeLeon points to her team’s togetherness as a reason for her selection as captain.

“Neena isn’t a starter but she can bring people together and she is popular with her teammates. Lots of our kids played softball and she was a definite leader there,” DeLeon said. “She can lead us but in different ways. You need the intangibles.”

The team opened its season with a 3-1 loss at Hibbing on Aug. 25, in a difficult way to start the season, but DeLeon is optimistic.

“We were rusty in the beginning but we are working with younger kids to get them where they need to be,” she said. “We have a 10th-grader (Bridget Yellin) and an eighth-grader (Taiya Gregg) playing middle hitter but I was not disappointed with how we played. We have capable kids and we did plenty of things right. As the season progresses we will do more things right more often. It’s a matter of experience.”

Esko lost senior setter Taylor Robinson to an ankle sprain in the third game but the Eskomos responded by winning that particular game.

“I was happy with how we responded even if the injury wasn’t a good thing,” DeLeon said.

In Moose Lake-Willow River, Rebels coach Beckie Jackson is very optimistic about the fall season.

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“Half of the varsity team is very experienced and half is brand new, which makes for an interesting mix of kids and dynamics,” said the sixth-year coach.

With more than 30 girls out for the program, the Rebels return key varsity players seniors Skyler Hoffman at setter, Sage Gerard and Ally Bode as outside hitters plus junior Josie Benzie at libero.

“There’s a lot of potential, although we are short,” Jackson said. “But we make up for the lack of height in hustle, effort and we’re working on defense,” she said.

ML-WR played its first game Tuesday night against Hinckley-Finlayson and beat them in three straight sets, 25-19, 25-5, 25-14.

“The first game was a little messy, but the next two were cleaner and the volleyball I expect from our girls,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I thought it went OK. We’ll just keep building from there.”


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