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Area volleyball preview: Next player up

WILLMAR -- Next player up. That's been the oft-heard mantra of coaches for years. No good team has the luxury to wallow in pity when a big-time player is no longer available. The star quarterback graduated? Tough. Strap on your hat, get under cen...

Riley Grussing
Former Willmar Cardinals setter Riley Grussing is one of many area stars who won’t be gracing prep courts this fall. Grussing, the Cards’ all-time set assists record-holder, is playing this season at NCAA Division II St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. File / Tribune

WILLMAR - Next player up.
That’s been the oft-heard mantra of coaches for years. No good team has the luxury to wallow in pity when a big-time player is no longer available.
The star quarterback graduated? Tough. Strap on your hat, get under center and do what you know how to do.
The all-state guard got injured? Oh well. Get out of that warmup. It’s your turn now.
Many west central Minnesota volleyball teams will need to embrace “next player up” as the 2015 season begins.
From ACGC to YME, many new players will become the faces of their teams.
Of the eight players on the Tribune’s 2014 All-Area first team, seven were seniors. The lone underclassmen, BBE’s Hailey Braegelman, suffered an injury this summer and will miss her entire junior season.
Also, 60 percent of the 2014 All-Area Honorable Mention team were seniors.
Willmar will need to find a way to replace two first-teamers, Riley Grussing and Leah Ruter, while Central Minnesota Christian School needs successors for three stars: Lexi Scott, Erin Orred and Nicole Brouwer.
New London-Spicer needs to find its new Sydney Stone, a 2014 first-teamer, and BBE will be on the lookout for the next Kinlee Swanson, and for someone to fill Braegelman’s shoes as she rehabs.
But the news isn’t all dire for area teams. While 66 percent of last year’s All-Area teams have moved on or are shelved, that leaves 34 percent - and many unknowns who have quietly been putting in the time in the offseason and in preseason practice - ready to be the next player up.
NLS has three high-quality players back – All-Area Honorable Mentions Carly Cronen, Kabrie Weber and Espi Austvold - from a team that posted back-to-back 25-win seasons.
Regardless who they lose each year, the Jaguars from BBE always put together teams that are competitive and a threat in the section playoffs.
Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart returns several solid players from a team that won 21 matches last year and lost in the Section 2A championship to Martin County West, which placed third in the 2014 Class A state tournament.
And Morris/Chokio-Alberta lurks as another team that lost good players but has potential stars in the making.
Kristy Fehr plays above and beyond her years. She had almost 700 set assists a year ago, and Brooke Gillespie is an all-around threat, with 277 kills and 368 digs last season.
Just two more who understand the concept of next player up. Who’s with them? Stay tuned.
2015 Tribune Area Volleyball Previews
ACGC Falcons
West Central Conference
COACH: Micah Tolzin (1st year)
2014 RECORD: 0-13, 1-18
RETURNING STARTERS: Hannah Wilner (5-9, OH, Sr.), Maree Lee (5-7, S, Jr.), Taryn Reinke (5-9, MH, Jr.), Kylie Rosenquist (5-11, RH, Sr.), Jordyn Bernstein (5-10, OH, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Falcons have a long way to come back after a pair of 1-18 seasons, but they have plenty of talented returning players to make the turnaround. Lee is back at setter, a versatile and aggressive leader who has good experience, Tolzin said. Lee will have seniors Wilner, Rosenquist and Bernstein, along with junior Reinke, to set up. “Wilner brings a lot of power to the outside hitter position and she is a scrappy defensive player,” Tolzin said. The Falcons’ wild card will be Kendra Miller (6-0, MB, Jr.). “Miller is a firecracker on our team,” Tolzin said, “commanding the net as a middle blocker and posing a threat to other teams with her attacking skills.”
BBE Jaguars
Central Minnesota Conference
COACH: Kevin Weller (9th year, 205-61)
2014 RECORD: 6-1, 16-13
RETURNING STARTERS: Karlee Kern (5-7, OH/libero, Sr.), Amanda Kollman (5-9, RH, Sr.), Kendall Kampsen (5-8, OH, Sr.), Haley Van Beck (DS/OH, Sr.), Ashley Trustheim 5-9, MBm Sr.), Tessa Halverson (5-5, S, Jr.), Morgan Gronli (5-10, MB, So.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Jaguars suffered a big blow this summer when junior Hailey Braegelman, the team’s assist leader the last two seasons, suffered an injury that will keep her out this year. Halverson will need to step into Braegelman’s spot full-time. She had 331 set assists last year. Despite her size, Weller calls Kern an “explosive attacker” and a team leader who is moving from libero to hitter. Trustheim is solid in the middle, with 177 kills and 90 blocks in 2014. Kollman is a good blocker and Gronli played well as a freshman, with 83 kills. Morgan Weller (5-6, S, Sr.), Sarah Feely (5-10, MB, Fr.) and Kendra Schmitz (5-9, RH, So.) could make contributions. “We will be smaller than previous teams and will have to rely on excellent defense,” Weller said. “Our leaders have really stepped up their game since the loss of Braegelman for a season.”
Benson Braves
West Central Conference
COACH: Shannon Schmidt (12th year overall)
2014 RECORD: 3-11, 6-19
RETURNING STARTERS: Hanna Lindblad (5-7, S, Sr.), Sophie Ascheman (5-8, MH, Jr.), Kelsey Pederson (5-7, OH, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Braves lost four of their top players - including two all-conference picks - from 2014, but they have four seniors returning and 22 juniors and sophomores on this season’s roster. Lindblad was an all-conference honorable mention last year and needs just seven assists to eclipse 1,000 career assists. Ascheman was third on the team with 111 kills last year and Pederson was fourth with 75 ace hits. Schmidt will be looking for several players to take a step up, including Addie Forbord (5-7, S, Sr.), Amanda Nissen (5-7, OH, Jr.), Danielle Himley (5-9, MH, Jr.), Nicole Berens (5-3, libero, Jr.), Victoria Pagel (5-10, MH, Jr.), Presley Gonnerman (5-8, OH/MH, Jr.), Megan Amundson (5-7, OH, Jr.) and Kayla Benson (5-4, DS, Sr.). “We have a lot of depth this year,” Schmidt said. “I’m hoping that will create some good competition in the gym.”
BOLD Warriors
West Central Conference
COACH: Brittany Keltgen (5th overall, 72-54)
2014 RECORD: 7-6, 14-13
RETURNING STARTERS: Kiah Morse (5-8, OH, Sr.), Peyton Weis (5-7, libero, Sr.), Whitney Haney (5-10, MB, Sr.), Makenna Steffel (5-11, MB, Fr.), Allison Krause (5-8, S, Sr.), Lauren Kopel (5-4, S, Sr.), Lanie Altmann (5-8, RH, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Keltgen, a former BOLD player, came into 2014 with only two proven players, but force-feeding playing time to younger athletes has the Warriors looking strong this year. Morse was the West Central Conference South MVP last year, leading the team with 194 kills and 463 digs. “She is a gifted athlete who plays with incredible fire and passion,” Keltgen said. Weis and Haney both earned all-conference honors last season. Weis was second on the team with 168 kills and third with 356 digs. Haney led the team with 62 blocks and was third with 114 kills. She also served 44 aces. Steffel is young but talented and gave the Warriors good performances, with 40 kills, 25 blocks and 61 digs as an eighth-grader. “We have put in a lot of time in the offseason,” Keltgen said. “We have big goals set and are excited to see what the season brings.”
Buffalo Lake-Hector-
Stewart Mustangs
Tomahawk Conference
COACH: Sue Alstrom (33rd year, 622 wins)
2014 RECORD: 7-1, 21-11
RETURNING STARTERS: Brenna Buboltz (5-10, OH), Jordan Feige (5-5, OH, DS), Mariah Paulson (6-0, MB), Kiana Johnson (5-9, MH), Brittany Schmalz (5-9, OH), Kaitlyn Krumrey (5-3, DS)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Mustangs lost top talent from a team that advanced to the Section 2A finals, such as Ashley Tintes, Ashley Peterson and Mara Olinger. But BLHS does have an anchor, three-year starter Johnson, back from that squad, as well as several starters who saw a lot of court time in big matches last season. Madison Ehlers (5-5, S) will move up from the Mustangs junior varsity and start at setter and another JV player in 2014, Keighly Daak, will move into the starting libero spot. “Many of these athletes took advantage of summer opportunities to play,” Ahlstrom said. “But we never had a complete squad at any one event. We are excited to see what we can do when all the pieces are together.
Central Minnesota Christian School Bluejays
Camden Conference
COACH: Terrin DeBoer (3rd year at CMCS, 55-15)
2014 RECORD: 9-2, 28-7
RETURNING STARTERS: Kalley Schwitters (5-9, OH, Jr.), Hannah Nelson (5-6, OH, Jr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: CMCS will be rebuilding virtually it’s entire team, and the 2014 Bluejays weren’t just any team. Gone are University of Sioux Falls recruit Lexi Scott, one of the top players in the state the last two years, Erin Orred, who will play at NCAA Division I Oral Roberts this fall, and setter Nicole Brouwer, the school’s all-time set assists leader. They were the backbone of a team that lost in the Section 3A final to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, which finished second in the Class A state tournament. Schwitters will lead a team that has no seniors entering her third season as a varsity regular. She had 179 kills, 36 blocks and 359 digs last season. Nelson could be moved to a couple of positions this year, and the Bluejays will be giving playing time to Ellie Greenwalt (5-9, S, So.), Kendra Brouwer (5-8, OH, Jr.), Tori Orred (5-7, MH, Jr.), Katie Brown (6-1, MH, Jr.), Bailey Scott (5-8, RH, Jr.), Kenna Ulferts (5-5, DS, Jr.), Kayla Ulferts (5-6, RH, Jr.) and Mariah Duininck (5-7, RH, So.).
Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks
Camden Conference
COACH: Tanya Thesing (1st year)
2014 RECORD: 7-3, 16-10
RETURNING STARTERS: None
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Thesing and her staff is facing a huge task rebuilding the Blackjacks with just one player, senior libero Alyssa Strand, with varsity experience. But Thesing has been coaching the D-B junior varsity since 2007 so she knows plenty about her current team. Senior Faith Anyasike joins Strand, who moves to an outside hitter spot, as team captain. Anyasike has been a JV starter the last two years and she is expected to bring those skills to the varsity squad. Thesing also sees big things for junior setter Kaitlynn Willander and freshman middle hitter Mary Bothun. Willander has been setting for the JV since eighth grade “and she’s just waiting for her opportunity to command the court as setter.” Bothun is an athletic hitter with good court sense, Thesing said. While young, Thesing said she expects the Blackjacks “will surprise us. It is fun to see them continue to grow and lead our underdog team.”
Kerkhoven-Murdock-
Sunburg Fighting Saints
Camden Conference
COACH: Joquel Molenaar (4th year, 32-42)
2014 RECORD: 4-6, 15-12
RETURNING STARTERS: Kallee Anderson (5-11, MH, Sr.), Sydney Walsh (5-8, MH, Sr.), Sam Gjerde (5-3, S, Jr.), Eden Norton, MiKaylie Hagen (5-1, DS, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Saints enter 2015 minus three of their top players, libero Ali Krieger, and hitters Kalli Forsell and Libby Wilts from a 15-win team. Anderson is a proven player who has taken on a greater leadership role over the summer. “We have a lot of great players returning to us this year and a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game,” Molenaar said. “But we do have some openings available to our underclassmen.” Walsh is a versatile player, able to take on middle and outside hitter positions, and Gjerde has a “ton of natural talent” and a growing understanding of where to set and when, Molenaar said. Norton, like Walsh, is able to play several positions and has plenty of varsity experience. Hagen is the team’s top defensive specialist.
Lac qui Parle Valley Eagles
Camden Conference
COACH: Jodi Tongen (2nd season, 5-18)
2014 RECORD: 0-10, 6-18
RETURNING STARTERS: BreAnna Seelye (5-10, MH, Sr.), Kelsey Kuechenmeister (5-11, S, Sr.), Morgan Croatt (5-3, S, Sr.), Kylee Larson (5-6, OH, Jr.), Kelsea Lund (5-2, Libero, So.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Croatt, Kuechenmeister and Larson are back for a third year as starters, with Seelye ready to step into a larger role in the middle. With Larson moving back from setter to outside hitter, Kuechenmeister will set as well as continue to also hit from the right side. “Both are very good blockers and have been more aggressive at the net throughout the summer and the preseason,” Tongen said. The Eagles also have two experienced players, Julia Bowers (5-4, DS, Sr.) and Ali Dahle (5-9, MH, Sr.), who will play a lot, along with Tania Tosel (5-7, OH, Jr.). With an eye to the future, Tongen also will likely give playing time to four freshmen: Lindsey Kranz (5-8, RH), MaKayla Wildung (5-3, DS), Karley Siedschlag (5-4, OH) and Haley Wollschlager (5-2, OH).
Litchfield Dragons
Wright County Conference
COACH: Darin Swenson (11th year, 144-142)
2014 RECORD: 3-3, 15-13
RETURNING STARTERS: Hannah Banks (5-10, MH, Sr.), Brynne Wahl (5-8, S, Jr.), Macy Huhner (5-9, OH, Jr.), Kyndra Beavers (5-6, OH, Jr.), Cassidy Resemen (5-5, DS, Jr.), Brynna Goraczkowski (5-8, RH, Sr.), Hallie Euerle (5-9, OH, Jr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Dragons lost several key players from their 15-win team in 2014, but Swenson has plenty of talented and experienced players returning to help bridge the gap. Banks is a quick, powerful middle hitter who recorded 135 kills last year. Huhner may be the team’s most versatile player, ending her 2014 season with 200 kills in addition to 122 digs. Wahl emerged as a solid setter last season, with 609 set assists as a sophomore. Swenson believes the team has a good run in it if the players mesh. “If we can find players to fill our gaps early, we could set ourselves up to compete in the conference and section,” he said.
MACCRAY Wolverines
Camden Conference
COACH: Terese Bourne (14th year)
2014 RECORD: 5-5, 10-14
RETURNING STARTERS: Emily Orwick (5-8, MH, Sr.), Sydney Schwitters (5-5, S, So.), Ellie Thein (5-6, OH, So.), Carly Orwick (5-8, MH, So.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Aside from Orwick, the starters Bourne brings back from 2014 are still quite young. Orwick’s game has evolved to the point that Bourne will also play her in the back row this season, and Schwitters has improved. “We are a young team that has experience,” Bourne said. “Defense will be a strength.”
Minnewaska Lakers
West Central Conference
COACH: Linda Mills
2014 RECORD: 3-10, 9-14
RETURNING STARTERS: Taylor Amundson (5-7, S, Jr.), Emma Middendorf (6-0, MH, Sr.), Kaylee Glover (OH, Sr.), Abby VerSteeg (5-8, OH, Jr.), Ashlyn Guggisberg (5-7, RH, Jr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Lakers have five returning starters, which will be a great asset this year and next, with three juniors among them. Mills cites that experience, good team dynamics and potent blocking potential as reasons for optimism this season. VerSteeg and Guggisberg will be moving to new positions - VerSteeg moving outside and Guggisberg to middle hitter - and the team will have to pick up on Mills’ quick-tempo offensive scheme. She likes what she’s seen from younger prospects, such as Makenzia Zenke (RH, Jr.), Courtney Erickson (RH, Jr.), Madi Lundebrek (DS, Sr.), Ashley Bloom (MH, Jr.) and Bailey Stewart (OH, So.).
Montevideo Thunder Hawks
West Central Conference
COACH: Joanna Magnuson (7th year)
2014 RECORD: 9-5, 12-11
RETURNING STARTERS: Alexis Schmitz (5-10, MH, Sr.), Abby Olson (5-6, OH, Jr.), Katie Hillerud (5-7, DS/OH, Sr.), Grace Sulflow (5-9, S, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Magnuson has a solid core of experienced players coming back after losing the likes of Natalie Feldhake, a Tribune All-Area Honorable Mention in 2014 who now is starting at Ridgewater College. “These players have extensive varsity playing experience and will be positive leaders for our team,” Magnuson said.
Morris/Chokio-Alberta
Tigers
West Central Conference
COACH: Kristi Fehr (17th year overall, 253-140)
2014 RECORD: 8-5, 18-9
RETURNING STARTERS: Karly Fehr (5-6, S, So.), Brooke Gillespie (5-8, OH, Jr.), Haley Erdahl (5-8, RH, Sr.), Lindsey Dierks (5-6, OH, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Tigers won 18 matches, including a Section 3AA playoff match, behind six seniors, all of whom were key players. But MCA has the potential to mitigate those losses. Karly Fehr and Gillespie are intriguing talents who might flourish to an even greater extent now that they are the team leaders. Fehr amassed 698 set assists as a freshman and she also had 33 kills and 190 digs. Gillespie finished 2014 with 277 kills and 368 digs. “Although we lost six seniors who were key players, we have some talented players back with experience and also some talented players looking to fill those roles,” Kristi Fehr said. “I feel that once we can get some of the new players comfortable in their positions and roles, we can be a threat come playoffs.”
New London-Spicer
Wildcats
Wright County Conference
COACH: Erin Shoumaker (1st year)
2014 RECORD: 4-1, 25-6
RETURNING STARTERS: Lindsey Vagle (5-5, OH, Sr.), Megan Thorson (5-10, RH/MH, Sr.), Carley Cronen (5-4, Libero, Sr.), Alyssa Fredrick (5-7, DS, Sr.), Espi Austvold (5-6, S, Sr.), Kabrie Weber (5-10, MH, Jr.), Erin Tebben (5-10, MH, Jr.), Brennah Bergh (5-7, OH, Jr.), Brooke Beuning (5-7, S/DS, Jr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Wildcats lost a singular talent in Sydney Stone, but perhaps no area team is positioned to overcome such a loss. NLS posted 25-6 records in 2013 and 2014. The Wildcats won three Section 3AA playoff games and lost in the section final to Marshall, which finished second in the Class AA state tournament. Nine regulars are back from that team, including Cronen, Weber and Austvold, all of whom were Tribune All-Area Honorable Mention in 2014. Backing all that up are Mya Rohman (5-4, DS/Libero, Sr.), Kara Jacobson (5-8, RH, OH, Sr.), Anika Olson (5-7, RH, OH, Jr.) and Jordan King (5-11, RH, Jr.). “We have a new coaching staff that is eager to get work and we’re looking forward to the upcoming season,” Shoumaker said. “There are a number of players returning who will provide valuable experience and leadership.”
Paynesville Bulldogs
Central Minnesota Conference
COACH: Nicole Humbert (4th year, 17-31)
2014 RECORD: 7-6, 12-13
RETURNING STARTERS: Ella Johnson (5-8, OH, Sr.), McKayla Quade (6-0, MB, Sr.), Ashley Froelich (6-0, RH, Sr.), Sydney Riley (5-5, S, Jr.), Brooke Kraemer (5-5, Libero/DS, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: Johnson, Froelich and Riley will be the cornerstones for the Bulldogs. Johnson has put in time to improve in her third season as a regular and will be counted on to play all positions this year. “Ella is a threat no matter where she is positioned on the court for attacking,” Humbert said. Riley is back as the team’s starting setter and has learned how to command the team offensively and defensively. “Sydney has been able to change how our offense has been run by her athletic ability and volleyball IQ,” Humbert said. Froelich was a Tribune All-Area Honorable Mention pick in 2014, ending the season with 177 kills, 23 solo blocks, 34 block assists and 23 ace serves. “Ashley has been our go-to player to make big game-changing kills in the front row,” Humbert said. “She is an effective right side blocker that helps in stopping or slowing down a powerful outside attack.”
Renville County West
Jaguars
Camden Conference
COACH: Deanne Flom (19th overall, 126-221)
2014 RECORD: 2-8, 11-18
RETURNING STARTERS: Libby Groen (5-5, OH, Sr.), Emma Kronlokken (5-10, OH, Sr.), MiKayla Pharr (5-10, MH, Sr.), Anessa Seehusen (5-8, RH, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: New head coach Flom will attempt to mold her team after losing two 2014 Tribune All-Area Honorable Mention players in Carina Zaske and Courtney Lindahl. But Groen, Kronlokken, Pharr and Seehusen give the Jaguars a solid core to build on.
Willmar Cardinals
Central Lakes Conference
COACH: Traci Grussing (20th year overall, 421-164-1)
2014 RECORD: 11-1, 21-7
RETURNING STARTERS: Cami Sletta (5-11, OH, Jr.), Esther Grussing (5-8, S, So.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Cardinals lost a virtual all-star team when Allie Roehl, Dani Rosen, Leah Ruter and Riley Grussing departed after the 2014 season. Grussing is the school’s all-time set assist leader, Ruter was a Tribune All-Area first-teamer, and Rosen finished last season with 237 kills and a spot on the All-Area Honorable Mention team. Roehl also was an All-Area HM pick and is second all-time in school history with 1,058 digs. “To say we are rebuilding is an understatement,” Traci Grussing said. Sletta and Esther Grussing are top-notch players, and the Cardinals have numerous players - Addie Erickson (5-2, Libero, Jr.), Martha Roberts (5-10, MH, Sr.), Catelyn Haug (5-8, OH, Sr.), Sarah Curtiss (5-4, DS, Sr.), Aby Kiehholz (6-0, MH, Jr.), Heidi Sellman (5-9, MH, Jr.), Emma Rosen (5-8, OH, So.), Hannah Gallagher (5-8, OH, So.), Carly Wedel (5-10, S/OH, Fr.) - prepared to step into major roles. “We have several girls who have put in a lot of work in (Junior Olympics) and over the summer,” Traci Grussing said, “so I think we will surprise some teams.”
YME Sting
Camden Conference
COACH: Stacy Hinz (3rd year)
2014 RECORD: 5-8, 12-15
RETURNING STARTERS: Jordan Hinz (OH, Sr.), Makayla Dyrdahl (MB, Jr.), Madison Hagert (Libero, Sr.), Paige Steffen (RH, Sr.), Maggie Scheffler (OH, Sr.), Kalli Knudson (S, Sr.)
KEYS TO THE SEASON: The Sting made their inaugural appearance as a Camden Conference team with a loss to Wabasso, and they must overcome the loss of Chyanne Sand, Megan Odegard and Marissa Sneller. But Hinz and Dyrdahl were All-Area Honorable Mention players in 2014. Dyrdahl had 213 kills, 43 ace blocks and 22 ace serves last season, and Hinz finished last season with 137 kills, 17 blocks, 225 digs and 25 aces while serving at a 95 percent clip. “We are excited to face new (Camden Conference) teams and know the Camden has great teams that have long volleyball success stories,” Hinz said. “Our coaching staff looks forward to coaching a group of committed girls who know that practice makes permanent.”

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