The bar is set high for the volleyball team at Ridgewater College.
There's no one to blame but themselves. Those three straight trips to the NJCAA Division III championship leave little slack.
The fourth edition of Joe Sussenguth's Lady Warriors appears to have the same caliber of talent as the previous teams.
Sussenguth succeeded Val Swanson, who happens to be his stepmother, before the 2006 season. He debuted with a national title. That went into the Ridgewater trophy case with the one Swanson's 2002 team brought home.
"I always said when Val retired that I wanted to maintain that high level and, if we could, raise it a bit more," said Sussenguth this week.
Of course, like all sports, it takes good kids who are willing to learn and work hard, the former head coach at Minneota High School points out.
This fall's team, the coach says, has the best chemistry, even though the roster bulges with 16 names.
The newcomers from Tribune area are familiar to those who follow high school sports: Brandi Bodin from MACCRAY, Brianna Jacobson from New London-Spicer, Macy McKay from Yellow Medicine East and Emily Roelike from Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
Yet, back in March, Sussenguth was uneasy. Yes, he had eight freshmen off the 2008 team that could return to the team (six did), but he didn't have a setter. Darcie Listul, who had played libero her first year, could play the spot but she was in the time-intensive radiology program and Sussenguth wasn't sure if she would be able to commit for a second year (she's back).
And a small matter pressed for his attention. His wife, Marci (Eischens), a Willmar graduate who played volleyball at Ridgewater and later Southwest State, gave birth to the couple's first child in March. There were some early complications that took extra attention, though little Nolan is just fine now.
Thankfully, in spring, things just started to drop into place.
Some of the new athletes, all multi-sport in high school, were also recruited intensively by softball coach Todd Thorstad or basketball coach Carrie Ogdahl.
Junior college offers the chance to play, with minimum overlap, two and even three sports.
Roelike is someone who could play all three at a high level and Thorstad was delighted to get her for fastpitch. The Ridgewater volleyball coach made clear she could play front row as well as back row. At a four-year school, he speculates, she may have been slotted only for the back row, though she's a spring-loaded 5-6 hitter.
McKay showed up at Ridgewater only two weeks before the start of practice. Sussenguth had watched her play many times at YME and she'd come to Willmar for a visit, but she seemed headed to Concordia College until the last moment.
"She's a left-handed hitter which makes her difficult for blockers," said Sussenguth. "We moved her to the right side so she's learning a new skill set. She's going to be pretty valuable to a four-year school one day."
Part of his day, Sussenguth is a stay-at-home dad. Marci is in her fifth year working for the St. Cloud recreation department. The couple lives south of St. Joseph.
"We take volleyball seriously but we want to make it fun," he said. "Otherwise, I wouldn't make the trip every day. It's great that local kids, area kids, can make a short drive and start on their education, play at a school that is committed to athletics and has been pretty successful at it."
He wants his players to see teams from outside the division. On Saturday, at an eight-team home invitational, the Lady Warriors will play Hibbing, UM-Morris JV and Bismarck (N.D.) State in pool play. After that, the top four teams advance with second vs. second and first vs. first for the championship.
Ridgewater men's soccer is thriving as a club program. The team has 18 players with about four of those part-time students. Going into Wednesday's home game with Riverland College, the Warriors were 4-0 outscoring Century College, Crossroads College and Hibbing by a combined 19-3. The closest contest was a 2-1 scrimmage over Willmar High School that opened their season.
Dustin Meyers, a student at the Hutchinson campus is the goalkeeper. The top scorer is sophomore Titus Jarbah with eight goals in three games.
Coach Edel Fernandez has arranged a 14-game schedule. He coached the varsity team during a two-year trial (2006-07) and the club team the last two years.