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Tribune photo by Rand Middleton After one year on the Willmar campus, Ridgewater College sophomores Kelsey Stommes, from left, Brittany Nissen, Kandace Taylor, Cassie Ziemer, Kelci Viesselman and Emma Sharpe already have bagged a division, region and national championships. The Lady Warriors, the NJCAA Division III National Champions in both 2010 and 2011, are ranked No. 1 to open the 2012 campaign. The new team debuts Friday at its own two-day invite. See Page B3 for a season preview on the team.

College Volleyball: Three-peat potential

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Ridgewater Volleyball Outlook

COACH

Joe Sussenguth, 7th year

LAST SEASON

MCAC Southern Division: 1st place (12-0)

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Region 13A: 1st place

NJCAA Division III: National Champion

Final Record: 31-3

OPENERS

Season/home: Ridgewater Classic at Willmar; Lady Warriors play at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday; 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.

MCCC South Division: Aug. 29 at Fergus Falls

ROSTER BREAKDOWN

SOPHOMORES

Kandace Taylor, Lake Crystal (St. Clair), 5-10 middle-hitter (25-27-8 attacks in 2011)

Emma Sharpe, Danube (RCW), 5-5 defensive specialist (235-256-20 serving, 181 digs)

Kelsey Stommes, Cold Spring (Rocori), 6-0 middle-hitter (251-304-28 serving, 570/614/ 284 attacks, 69 ace blocks

Cassie Ziemer, New London (NLS), 5-10 middle-hitter (42-46-4 serving, 189-202-81 attacks, 46 ace blocks

Brittany Nissen, Olivia (BOLD), 5-10 outside- right-side hitter (10-13-2 serving, 34-38-9 attacks)

Kelci Viesselman, Hutchinson, 5-9 outside hitter (82-94-16 serving, 493-555-214 attacks)

FRESHMEN

Paige Wilner, Litchfield (ACGC), 5-6 setter

Taylor Schellbach, Rush City, 5-5 setter

Taylor Sharpe, Danube (RCW), 5-5 outside-hitter, def. specialist

Morgan Meyer, Watkins (EVW), 5-9 outside- right-side hitter

Tiffani Karbo, Balaton, (TMB), 5-9 setter

Katie Knisley, Grove City, (ACGC), 5-10 outside- right-side hitter

Alicia Koenen, Clara City (MACCRAY), 5-10 outside hitter

Alexandra Horton, Maple Grove, outside- right-side-hitter

Emily Ripka, Oglivie, 5-11 middle-hitter.

OVERVIEW

n Two-time defending champions are ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA DIII poll have opportunity to become first DIII program to win three consecutive. In 2011, the Willmar-based team was ranked No. 3 in preseason.

n Two-time All-America setter Molly Hurrle and 2011 All-America outside hitter Hannah Smith have moved on to compete at a four-year college after each played on two national championship teams; returning sophomore Kelsey Stommes is an All-America holdover from 2011. All-Region/All-State libero Aimee Johnson and hitter Karli Wendlandt, a serve/receive specialist, also graduated while NJCAA All-Tourney choice Taylor Elzenga left after one season to pursue other career/academic interests.

n Six returning players are joined by nine newcomers. Coach Joe Sussenguth comments: "Combined with our first-year players, there is depth, versatility, athleticism and talent evident from the first day of practice. With the competitive level displayed, virtually everyone one should contribute. Competition for playing time will likely be a season-long challenge. ... The talent is in place to make a run. It is up to the team how much they want to put into improving each day. If they work well together, I'm certain we can contend for a National Championship."

n Setters: With Hurrle gone (she and Smith are both at Mayville State) Tiffani Karbo, Paige Wilner and Taylor Schellbach are learning the offensive system and "making great strides," states the head coach.

n Hitters: Stommes and Cassie Ziemer return in the middle. Emily Ripka and Kandace Taylor provide depth at a physically grinding position. Outside/Right will be flexible with Kelci Viesselman and Brittany Nissen returning. Freshman Alex Horton has had a strong preseason. Four others are in the mix.

n Defensive specialists: Emma Sharpe provides experience at serve/receive. Taylor Sharpe and Morgan Meyer are expected to contribute. A rule change allows 15 substitutions, making it possible to load as needed defensively. Comments Sussenguth: "We'll need to focus on back-row defense and serve/receive every day ... we'll have to find some committed players who can pass well in serve/receive and defend hard in the back row."

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