2017 Volleyball Previews: Hungry Tigers
There were some new faces at Morris/Chokio-Alberta's volleyball at a recent practice but the attitude throughout the Morris Elementary School gym was the same as it's ever been.
"Our mindset and our goals are always the same," Morris/CA head coach Kristi Fehr said. "The girls that are coming back from last year, they're hungry, and the new ones are starting to feel that way, too."
The Tigers are coming off two straight years where their season ended at the Class AA state tournament and with four returning starters this year's squad has every intention of making their way back for a third time.
Leading the way is senior setter Karly Fehr, a University of Northwestern, St. Paul, commit. Fehr already holds the school's all-time set assists record at 2,391 and aims to put that number out of reach this season. She'll be joined by fellow senior Jenna Howden and junior libero Riley Decker as returning starters, as well as right side hitter Jenna Larsen who played in most of the team's sets last year.
"We've been lucky having such a good core back," Kristi Fehr said. "A lot of the girls that are back that maybe didn't play as much last year or were on JV, they were the ones on the other side of the court in practices so they know what it takes and what they need to do."
Those players looking to get starting time will have quite the gap to fill. Outside hitter Brooke Gillespie graduated last year following an All-Area First Team appearance, as did Ashley and Nicole Solvie, the former of which earned an All-Area honorable mention.
"We lost a great group of girls," Kristi Fehr said. "They made each other and everyone else better so they won't be easy to replace."
The returners, though experienced, now recognize their own leadership roles on a team with high expectations.
"With my position, I think the setter is kind of naturally a leader," said Karly Fehr, a two-year captain. "But it's different now being a senior. There's not the older girls taking on the extra roles. That's up to us now."
Decker, a mainstay in the Tiger defense the past couple of years with more than 1,000 career digs, agrees that her experience should help her leadership, even though she's a junior.
"Being on the court all the time I think you sort of take on the role without knowing," Decker said. "We learned a lot from the girls that graduated. They all included us and showed us it's not about age. Everyone should feel like part of the team. Our job (as leaders) is to boost everybody with confidence. We all need to be cheering for each other during games and practices."
As for the expectations, the Tigers acknowledge there's a bit of uncertainty with this year's team. After losing such a strong senior class, opposing teams might think the Tigers could face a relative down year but it's tough to look past the returning starters.
"We just need to stay confident," Decker said. "We have the experience. We've been (to the state tournament) twice, we need to keep that edge to get back there."
Howden, who is expected to be the go-to attacker for the Tigers this season, said it's a top priority to help those new players into roles left vacant by graduation.
"We have a lot of new players and our job is to show them in practice what it takes to get better and win," Howden said. "You can't do it by yourself. We all make each other better."
Every player has the goal of making it to the big dance at the Xcel Energy Center but Karly Fehr and the company show their maturity with a simple approach.
"We can't just focus on getting back to state," Karly Fehr said. "We need to go game-by-game and figure out what it takes to win each game the right way. That's how we'll make it back to state."