2017 Tribune All-Area Volleyball Team
The best part of volleyball, at least from a spectator's point of view, is the game's tendency to flip momentum at a moment's notice. Other sports have moments like that, too, but volleyball thrives on that very aspect. It works that way in part because of the scoring and nature of a five-set match, but often times it changes because of a particular player on the court. Game-changing players aren't defined by their position or height. A lot of times they show up in the box scores with some extravagant numbers but most of all they are the players that make other coaches nervous.
This year's All-Area first team features six seniors and a pair of juniors, including four repeat members of the first team. Even more, three players are on the first team for the third year in a row. All eight, however, showed that ability in 2017 to flip a match at any given moment. The three setters on the first team are among the area's best passers in recent history and all eight players broke a number of records along the way.
Willmar, Senior, Setter
Esther Grussing only needs a couple of plays to prove she's in a league of her own. The Cardinal setter is a powerful force from every point on the court and her abilities make her stand out wherever she is. Her 5-foot-8 frame becomes irrelevant when she out-leaps teammates and competitors four-to-six inches taller. Her 2017 stats look like career numbers for some players: 988 set assists (10.9 assists per set), 255 digs, 54 solo blocks and 41 ace serves. Though her sister, Riley, still holds the career record for set assists, Esther's 988 set assists set the school record for a single season mark. She also tallied 63 kills for good measure. Those stats not only gave her a spot on this first team but also a place on the All-State team and to the Under Armour All-American honorable mention team, one of four Minnesota players to be named to the team. Numbers aside, Grussing helped guide her team to a 25-5 record and the Section 8AAA final for the second year in a row and will take her talents to a different group of Cardinals next season at Ball State University.
Willmar, Senior, Middle Hitter
It's not often a player goes straight to the Tribune's All-Area first team without a previous stop on the honorable mention team but Volk's improvement in 2017 allowed her to do just that. She finished up the season with 203 kills and though that number won't stun people it's her efficiency and defense that earns her a spot on this team. She hit at a whopping .350 percent and proved to be arguably the best defender at the net in the area with 74 blocks, tied for the most on her team with Grace Marti. "Abby has stepped it up for Willmar this year," Cardinal head coach Traci Grussing said. "She hits a very quick offense and her high arm swing enables her to put the ball anywhere."
Morris/Chokio-Alberta, Senior, Setter
In an area with an overwhelming talent at the setter position Fehr makes her presence felt every night with a control of a strong attacking team. Her Tigers missed out on making their third-straight trip to the state tournament but she was a catalyst in guiding the team to it's third consecutive Section 3AA final and a 21-6 record, and earned her second-straight All-State honor. Morris/CA lost a lot of its firepower from last year's team but Fehr's passing ability allowed newer players to make an impact. The Northwestern-St. Paul commit etched her name in Morris/CA's record books a number of times, including career set assists (3,346) and career ace serves (115). Her 936 dig total is also third best in school history. Most of all, though, Fehr is a big-game player, a fact she proved in a 3-2 victory over Sauk Centre Oct. 12 when she set the school record with 62 set assists. That total surpassed the previous area record by Brooke Beuning in 2016 and marked her place as fourth-most in Minnesota State High School League history. In 2017 alone, Fehr tallied 815 set assists, 94 kills, 251 digs and 34 ace serves on 98 percent service accuracy.
Morris/Chokio-Alberta, Senior, Outside Hitter
Morris/Chokio-Alberta needed a hitter to step up after the graduation of former Tribune All-Area first teamer Brooke Gillespie and Howden filled the void to near-perfection. The senior outside hitter logged the highest kill total of any area athlete in 2017 by more than 100 with 407 kills, including 30 in the 3-2 victory over Sauk Centre on Oct. 12 which set the school's single match record. "We have looked to her this year to be an all-around player and our go-to hitter," Morris/CA head coach Kristi Fehr said. "She is a very explosive hitter and can pound the ball down. She has worked hard this year on changing up her hitting and is a great role model."
Morris/Chokio-Alberta, Junior, Libero
Like a goaltender in hockey, an elite libero often has the ability to make attackers raise their eyes to the sky wondering how their team didn't just score. Riley Decker has frustrated opponents in the West Central Conference for the last three years and she's finally recognized for her ability as one of two juniors on the Tribune's All-Area first team. The three-time All-Conference honoree already holds the school record for career digs and finished 2017 with the second-most digs in a single season in the school's history. Though many of the players in front of her tend to get a bit more recognition, Decker is a consistent and passionate presence from the back row. "Riley plays with a lot of passion and has good instinct in reading the defense," Fehr said. "We look to her to spark our defense and lead in the back row."
MACCRAY, Junior, Middle Hitter
The 6-foot tall junior has one of the rare abilities to take completely take over a match and she put that ability on display throughout the season for the Wolverines. Though the team's season ended sooner than expected, the middle hitter still finished as one of two players (joining Howden) in the area to compile more than 300 kills (306). Her offense alone would put her near the top of the nominees but her blocking is what sets her apart. She finished with 39 solo blocks to establish herself as one of the top juniors not only in the area but the entire state.
MACCRAY, Senior, Setter
Northwestern-St. Paul is going to have an embarrassment of riches at the setting position next year when Schwitters joins Fehr as the incoming class. Schwitters ran the powerful offense for the Wolverines, collecting 771 set assists, putting herself well past the 1,000 mark for her career. She was an ever-present defender, as well, wrapping up 2017 with 228 digs. This is her second year as a member of the Tribune All-Area first team and this year she also joined the all-state honorable mention squad. "Sydney is a hard worker who is dedicated to the sport," Wolverine head coach Terese Bourne said. "She plays with passion and leads by example."
MACCRAY, Senior, Outside Hitter
Versatility is vital in volleyball. One moment, a player goes from being a powerful hitter, looking to score a point for her team and the next moment that same player will be on defense looking to save a point. In such a fluid a game, players like Thein are invaluable. Few area players are able to switch between roles easier and better than Thein, who finished the year with 221 kills and a team-high 308 digs. The South Dakota State University commit was a captain in 2017, proving she could lead on and off the court. "Ellie is a determined player who is very disciplined and an amazing team leader," Wolverines head coach Terese Bourne said. "She is a strong back row defender." This is the second year Thein has been named to the All-Area first team.