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High Schools: Introducing the 2021 West Central Tribune All-Area Volleyball team

Athletes from BBE, BOLD, MACCRAY, Montevideo, Paynesville, Willmar lead this year's squad

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Willmar junior Sydney Schnichels reacts after the Cardinals scored a point in the first set of a Section 2AAA semifinal match against Mankato West Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 at the Big Red Gym at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Back on the court without any interruptions, volleyball was strong throughout west central Minnesota.

Three area teams — Willmar (2AAA), Paynesville (3AA) and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (6A) — made deep postseason runs all the way to spots in their respective section finals. MACCRAY (20-8) was the top team in the Camden Conference North Division while BOLD (22-5) and Central Minnesota Christian (18-10) also put together strong seasons.

And in this installment of the West Central Tribune’s All-Area Volleyball team, there is no shortage of talent. In the seven-person squad, three earned All-State honors. Three are committed to Division I teams while another is going D-II. And four are juniors that will return in 2022.

Without further ado, here is the 2021 All-Area Volleyball Team (in alphabetical order):

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BBE senior Emily Kern bumps the ball ahead on a serve-receive during a Central Minnesota Conference match against Paynesville on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at Brooten. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Emily Kern

Sr. L, BBE

A standout back-row player not just in west central Minnesota but in all of Class A, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa libero Emily Kern helped the Jaguars to a 23-8 record, a berth in the Section 6A championship match and a top-10 ranking for much of the season. A Class A All-State selection, Kern finished the season with 495 digs, 86 set assists, 62 ace serves (89.9% serving) and 16 kills. Along with her All-State nod, Kern was named the Central Minnesota Conference’s Co-Player of the Year, along with Academic All-State and All-CMC and BBE’s Team Defensive Award.

Heading to Division II St. Cloud State next fall, Kern ends her high school career as BBE’s all-time leader in digs (1,726) and ace serves (188). She also owns the top three dig season totals in Jaguar history: 600 in ‘19; 495 in ‘21; and 442 in ‘18.

“Emily has been a leader in the back row on defense and serve-receive for all four of her seasons in the Jaguar libero jersey,” said BBE head coach Alanna Hunter. “Our hitters also rely on Emily to communicate with them what is open on the opponents’ court. Our hitters have been spoiled with her hitter coverage off the block.”

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Montevideo junior Avery Koenen tallied 19 kills in the Thunder Hawks' 3-0 sweep win over Minnewaska on Thursday in Montevideo. Matthew Curry / West Central Tribune

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Avery Koenen

Jr. MH, Montevideo

Avery Koenen was tasked with a heavy workload for Montevideo . And the junior middle hitter delivered in pushing the Thunder Hawks to its first double-digit win season since 2017.

Koenen was named the Most Valuable Player in the West Central Conference after compiling 417 kills, 175 digs, 63 blocks, 22 ace serves and 18 set assists. Through those efforts, Montevideo finished with a 10-15 record. She was also named the team MVP.

Along with her athletic accomplishments, Koenen was named Academic All-State. Also a standout in basketball and track and field, Koenen is verbally committed to play college basketball at Division I North Dakota State University.

“Avery is a dominant force as a six-rotation player,” said Thunder Hawks head coach Ashley Palmer. “She was our go-to all year and completed the year with a career-high 417 kills. Avery is successful in all three sports that she competes in.”

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Willmar senior Lydia Larson (4) sets the ball while senior Mackenzie Knofczynski look on during a non-conference match against New London-Spicer Tuesday at New London. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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Lydia Larson

Sr. S, Willmar

One of two repeat first-teamers from 2020, Willmar’s Lydia Larson resumed her role as one of the area’s top facilitators on offense.

The Cardinals’ senior setter capped off the year with 936 set assists. She also had 144 digs and 23 ace serves.

For postseason accolades, Larson was named All-Central Lakes Conference and a Senior Scholar Athlete. In her career, Larson finishes third in school history with 2,359 career assists.

She will resume her volleyball career in college at the Division I level at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.

“Lydia was a three-year starter and a big asset to our team,” said Willmar head coach Leah Ruter. “It’s going to be a big spot for us to fill next year.”

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Willmar junior Sydney Schnichels tries to get the ball between a pair of Marshall blockers during a non-conference game on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2021 at Marshall High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Sydney Schnichels

Jr. OH, Willmar

Another Willmar Cardinal repeated as a first teamer as Sydney Schnichels continued to emerge as one of the most dynamic players in Minnesota.

A 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter, Schnichels was a Class AAA All-State selection after finishing with 386 kills (.315% hitting), a school record for a junior. She also had a team-best 276 digs to go with 39 ace blocks and 33 ace serves.

This season, Willmar won the Central Lakes Conference and reached the Section 2AAA championship match. Ranked in the top five all season, the Cardinals finished the season at 22-8.

An All-CLC pick, Schnichels verbally committed to play Division I volleyball at the University of Minnesota following her high-school career.

“Sydney is a big competitor and a hard worker. She is always looking for ways to get better,” said Cardinals head coach Leah Ruter. “She pushes herself everyday and is always trying to get extra reps in any way she can. I’m looking forward to coaching her another year.”

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BOLD senior Leslie Snow takes a swing at the ball during a West Central Conference match against Benson on Sept. 21, 2021 at Benson. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Leslie Snow

Sr. OH, BOLD

One of the top players in BOLD’s 20-plus win season was senior outside hitter Leslie Snow.

Snow wrapped up the season with 230 kills, 208 digs, 35 ace serves, 28 set assists and 18 blocks. She was an All-West Central Conference selection while being named team MVP and BOLD’s Best Offensive Player.

“Leslie is a natural volleyball player with a high IQ of the game,” said Warriors head coach Baylie Kubesh. “She is someone who consistently led by example on our team. Leslie always played with passion. Right now she is undecided on her school, but I know wherever she goes she will be an asset to the team.”

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Paynesville junior Kyleigh Tangen attacks the ball from the back row during a Central Minnesota Conference match against BBE on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 at Brooten. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Kyleigh Tangen

Jr. OH, Paynesville

Kyleigh Tangen was a catalyst for the best season in school history for the Paynesville Bulldogs.

The junior outside hitter finished with a school record 463 kills (.244% hitting). Tangen tallied 251 digs, 35 ace serves and 27 blocks en route to first team All-Central Minnesota Conference honors.

The Bulldogs finished 23-4 and made a section championship for the first time in program history, reaching the Section 3AA finals.

“There are few outside hitters in our area that compare to Kyleigh's all-around skills on and off the court,” said Paynesville coach Nicole Humbert. “Her competitiveness and ability to believe and lead a team has been a coach's dream this season for myself. I most appreciate her ability to take her achievements and give the needed thanks and credit to her teammates that have helped her on her journey.”

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MACCRAY junior Sydney Thein keeps the ball alive in the back row during a Section 3A-North semifinal mach against Canby on Monday, Nov. 9 at the R/A Facility in Marshall. Joe Brown/ West Central Tribune

Sydney Thein

Jr. OH/S, MACCRAY

The multifaceted Sydney Thein helped push MACCRAY to the top spot in the Camden Conference North division this fall.

Playing as an outside hitter and setter in the Wolverines’ 6-2 offense, the junior recorded 337 kills, 317 set assists, 248 digs, 23 ace serves and 14 blocks.

Along with being named All-Camden for the third straight season, Thein was awarded a spot on the Class A All-State team.

“Sydney Thein is a player that competes hard day in and day out,” said MACCRAY head coach Terese Bourne. “She is a talented player that puts up a strong swing.”

Honorable Mentions

Ella Bourne

Sr. L, MACCRAY

29 ace serves, 71 set assists, 475 digs; All-Camden Conference.

Coco Duininck

Sr. S, CMCS

35 ace serves, 64 kills, 7 blocks, 700 set assists, 136 digs; All-Camden Conference, over 2,000 career set assists.

Yansi Flores

Sr. MH, YME

235 kills (.239% hitting), 301 digs, 68 ace blocks, 46 ace serves, 27 set assists; All-Camden Conference, Team Defensive MVP.

Mackenzie Knofczynski

Sr. MH, Willmar

229 kills (.352% hitting), 67 digs, 66 ace blocks, 48 ace serves; All-Central Lakes Conference, Team MVP, Academic All-State, Senior Scholar Athlete.

Kaity Kusler

Sr. MH, Litchfield

198 kills (.204% hitting), 64 ace blocks, 45 digs, 29 ace serves (88% serving); All-Wright County Conference.

Ava Mueller

Jr. OH, BBE

411 kills (33% hitting), 19 set assists, 173 digs, 31 ace blocks, 46 ace serves (88.7% serving); First Team All-Central Minnesota Conference, Team’s Player of the Year, Academic All-Conference.

Molly Mulder

Sr. OH, CMCS

45 ace serves, 377 kills, 15 blocks, 6 set assists, 232 digs; All-Camden Conference.

Hannah Pharr

Sr. MB, RCW

275 kills (.311 hitting percentage), 57 solo blocks; All-Camden Conference, Team MVP.

Marissa Rosen

Sr. OH, Willmar

251 kills (.187% hitting), 183 digs, 30 ace blocks, 27 ace serves; All-Central Lakes Conference, Senior Scholar Athlete, Cardinal Award.

Delaney Tersteeg

So. S, BOLD

413 set assists, 150 digs, 27 ace serves; All-West Central Conference, named West Central Conference Setter of the Year, voted team’s best defender.

NOTE: Nominations were not received from New London-Spicer and Minnewaska

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