College volleyball: ‘Smart, versatile’ Warriors open today

WILLMAR -- Height is nice to have on a volleyball team. A coach doesn't necessarily need it, though, to have its squad succeed. Just look at Joe Sussenguth's track record at Ridgewater College.

Three Dassel-Cokato graduates are key to Ridgewater’s season: outside hitter Brenna Olsen, from left, setter Kaitlyn Sterner and middle hitter Ariana Hasti, all sophomores. Rand Middleton / Tribune

WILLMAR - Height is nice to have on a volleyball team. A coach doesn’t necessarily need it, though, to have its squad succeed. Just look at Joe Sussenguth’s track record at Ridgewater College.
The stepson of legendary Ridgewater coach Val Swanson coached three national championship teams and averaged 29 wins in his first nine seasons with the Warriors, and said “it’s been about five or six years since we’ve had a tall team.”
The roster this season has only player measuring taller than 5 feet-10 inches, freshman middle blocker Natalie Feldhake of Montevideo at 6-1.
“All indications are that we are a smart, athletic, quick, yet an aggressive and strong team,” said Sussenguth, who is 261-62 entering his 10th season at Ridgewater. “We’ll see how those and other characteristics develop as the season progress.”
Last year the Warriors finished 19-7 and reached the region final before falling to fellow MCAC South power Rochester. All-State hitter Brenna Olsen (5-10) and fellow Dassel-Cokato High School teammate and All-South Division First Team setter Kaitlyn Sterner (5-8) return from that squad for Ridgewater.
Players that can contribute from the get-go include 5-foot-9 sophomore right side Ariana Hasti (Dassel-Cokato), and 5-foot-9 freshman outside hitter/setter Baylie Kubesh (BOLD) and 5-foot-10 freshman middle hitter Hailey Leiding (Martin County West).
Along with Hasti, Alexis Peters, a 5-foot-6 sophomore defensive specialist/setter (Yellow Medicine East), and Amber Skelton, a 5-foot-9 sophomore hitter (Monticello), also saw playing time last year.
“At this point we seem to have a balanced team, which will benefit our team offensively,” said Sussenguth. “There may be matches along the way that we’ll lean on someone to contribute more, but we won’t attach a go-to label on anyone. As with all volleyball team, if we have invested serve-receive passers, our objective of attaining offensive balance will be easier.”
The matches start today as the Warriors host the Ridgewater Classic. Ridgewater will play Ellsworth Community College (Iowa Lakes, Iowa) at 2 p.m. and Mayville State (N.D.) JV at 6 p.m. before concluding the tournament on Saturday by playing Lake Region State (Devils Lake, N.D.) at 9:30 a.m. and MCAC North power Central Lakes at 4:30 p.m.
The first division match for Ridgewater is Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at home against Riverland. The Warriors don’t hit the road until next Friday when they travel to La Crosse, Wis., to face Western Technical College.
“We know that each match we’ll face different skill levels and systems of play,” said Sussenguth. “This group is versatile - many players can play multiple positions - so our ability to adapt and change should be a strength as we gain experience as a unit.”
The Warriors were one of three MCAC teams that landed in the NJCAA Division III Preseason Poll, coming in at No. 8. Central Lakes is No. 4 and Rochester - the Warriors’ biggest division rival - No. 6. The first meeting between Ridgewater and Rochester is next Saturday at noon in Rochester.
“The MCAC South has been one of the toughest divisions in D-III volleyball and that should be the case again this year,” said Sussenguth. “St. Cloud and Rochester should be prevalent, with Minnesota West at MSCTC-Fergus Falls pressuring teams as well.”
(key: name, height, grade, positions, high school)
Natalie Feldhake, 6-1, freshman, MB, Montevideo
Ariana Hasti, 5-9, sophomore, RS/MH, Dassel-Cokato
Baylie Kubesh, 5-9, freshman, OH/S, BOLD
Hailey Leiding, 5-10, freshman, MB/RS, Martin County West
Natalie Neumann, 5-5, freshman, DS, Watertown-Mayer
Brenna Olsen, 5-10, sophomore, OH, Dassel-Cokato
Alexis Peters, 5-6, sophomore, DS/S, Yellow Medicine East
Amber Skelton, 5-9, sophomore, RS/MH, Monticello
Lexie Skoglund, 5-9, freshman, OH/DS, Paynesville
Alyssa Stern, 5-8, freshman, OH/DS, Montevideo
Kaitlyn Sterner, 5-8, sophomore, S, Dassel-Cokato



Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
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