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Not just for girls

The Northland Volleyball Club is expanding to welcome boys as the MSHSL approves the addition of boys varsity volleyball to spring sports. Photo by Amber Pargman1 / 2
Retiring Northland Volleyball Club director Mike Patenaude shares a laugh with assistant coach Ellen Stromgren. Photo by Amber Pargman2 / 2

After 25 years of stalwart leadership from a key member, the Northland Volleyball Club is changing its approach, starting this summer.

Mike Patenaude, who helped found the club 25 years ago, is stepping aside — right as the Minnesota State High School League has approved boys volleyball as a spring varsity sport starting next school year.

The club, based out of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, will now be run by Sierra Michaelson and her sister, Jessica Wolff.

"Mike has done an incredible job, with Northland Volleyball Club being one of the first in northeast Minnesota," Michaelson said. "But he decided he wants to be a face in the crowd after all the time he's spent working to help grow the sport, and he's earned that right."

Patenaude has been vital in the club's growth and continues a lifelong love for the sport.

"He can't play like he used to but he loves watching others play," Michaelson said. "So he should have the chance to do that and not worry about working all the time."

Michaelson and Wolff have the brief of bringing new ideas to the club.

"We have the task of bringing some fresh thoughts in," Michaelson said. "That's not to say that Mike's weren't great, but we have a chance to make a fresh start now."

Both Michaelson and Wolff have been coaches with the club for five years, with Wolff being part of a state championship team at Lakeville North in her high school days.

Yet for its entire existence, the club has been a girls-only group. With the advent of boys' volleyball, Michaelson is hoping that will change.

"There aren't a lot of high schools up here that have expressed interest, but Duluth East and Bemidji might get into it," she said. "It's mainly the bigger schools now. We would love for boys to become a part of the club."

The sport being played in the spring — which of course means that this winter, it's one of the very few spring sports that could actually be played on schedule — helps as well.

"Girls play in the fall, when many of the boys are playing football or have other things going on," Michaelson said. "So to have it in the spring is great."

Michaelson — who, like Wolff, has come up from the Twin Cities — is simply interested in growing the sport. In the spring, boys volleyball would battle baseball, track and the fast-growing sport of lacrosse for attention not only down south, but statewide.

"There's potential and we want to help the sport grow for boys and girls," she said.

An informational meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 9 at the FDLTCC Auditorium. Social hour will precede the event and a brief ceremony honoring Patenaude will start the meeting.

Michaelson said part of the agenda will involve discussing the club's role with the National Juniors Club, after which the floor will be opened to questions.

"We'd like to make the club a national one," Michaelson said. "We want to get our players the highest level of competition we can, and that's the way to do it."

For more information or to RSVP for the May 9 meeting, visit or find the "Northland Volleyball Club Juniors" page on Facebook.