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Volleyball: MACCRAY's Thein puts in the time

Senior outside hitter/setter and future SMSU Mustang a do-it-all threat for eighth-ranked Wolverines

MACCRAY senior Sydney Thein high-fives teammates during warmups prior to a Camden Conference match against TMB on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 at Clara City.
MACCRAY senior Sydney Thein high-five teammates during warmups prior to a Camden Conference match against TMB on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 at Clara City.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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CLARA CITY — Sydney Thein routinely makes something out of nothing.

Whether it’s as an outside hitter or setter in the MACCRAY volleyball team’s offense, or as a back-row player, Thein has a knack for making the hard plays look pedestrian.

“The thing with Sydney is that she can take an awful ball and better it every time and turn it into a good play,” said Wolverines first-year head coach Tory Brouwer. “I’ve had multiple coaches come up and say that to me. They’re like ‘Sydney touches the ball and you’re sitting there like, oh crap, that play’s done, and here’s Sydney coming through bettering a ball and hitting it over the net somehow, someway.' She is just so volleyball smart and talented at that.”

Thein, a senior for MACCRAY, has honed her craft at the high-school level and with the Southwest Minnesota Volleyball Junior Olympic team.

She’s committed to play at Division II Southwest Minnesota State and will continue to develop as a setter with the Mustangs starting next fall.

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With the MACCRAY student section looking on, Wolverines senior Sydney Thein gets ready to serve during a Camden Conference match against TMB on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 at MACCRAY High School in Clara City.
With the MACCRAY student section looking on, Wolverines senior Sydney Thein gets ready to serve during a Camden Conference match against TMB on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022 at MACCRAY High School in Clara City.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

For now, Thein is hoping to keep every ball in play for a young Wolverines squad that is ranked eighth in Class A. MACCRAY is set to take on No. 2-ranked Minneota on Tuesday night, then will play in the Class A Showcase on Friday and Saturday at the Midwest Volleyball Warehouse in Burnsville.

“We’re learning a lot,” Thein said of the season thus far. “We started out really good and playing well together. But we do have some youth on our team and it’s good at the beginning of the season to have a few battles and to learn from some mistakes that we’ve had. I think we’ll be good coming up this next week.”

Thein came up playing as an outside hitter. As an eighth-grader, MACCRAY had a hole in its lineup following the graduation of setter Sydney Schwitters.

“They needed a setter and I stepped into that role and I kind of stuck with passing and hitting,” Thein said. “I just kind of played all over and I think that really helps the team and helped me gain value as a player.”

Thein admits it wasn’t an easy role to fill at first.

“Setting is very particular with your locations, so it’s kind of hard to jump right into,” she said.

It was during the JO season when Thein started to figure out the finer points of setting.

“In my club season, I grew a lot setting-wise,” Thein said. “I had a good setting coach in Mike Dalager, who I played for for a couple of years.”

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Between setting, attacking and digging, Thein has made her ball skills the focal point of her game. Case in point: in four matches at a tournament in Wabasso last weekend, Thein led the Wolverines in kills (35), was second in set assists (45) and tied for third in digs (27).

“If you’re setting and the ball’s off the net, just trying to get a good enough ball to where your hitter can get a good swing,” Thein said about her ball skills. “They might not get a kill off of that ball, but you can still be winning the rally if you cause the other team to get out of system.”

There’s plenty of familiarity on the floor for Thein and the Wolverines. Being a three-time All-Camden Conference pick and a Class A All-State selection as a junior, Thein’s got family on the floor. Sydney’s cousins are sisters Jordan and Emma Thein. Jordan is a fellow senior and Emma is a freshman. Another freshman, Brielle Janssen, is another of Sydney’s cousins.

MACCRAY junior Sydney Thein goes for a setting attempt during a Section 3A-North semifinal match against Canby on Monday at the R/A Facility in Marshall.
MACCRAY junior Sydney Thein goes for a setting attempt during a Section 3A-North semifinal match against Canby on Monday at the R/A Facility in Marshall.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Sydney is also following in her older sister Ellie’s footsteps. Ellie Thein played as a defensive specialist at Division I South Dakota State. During her college recruitment, Sydney leaned on Ellie’s experiences.

“She helped me get started with the process; just sending emails out and getting to know coaches,” Sydney said. “When I made my decision, she was really helping in that she appreciated in her time that it was relatively close to home. And she thought it was really important with your relationship with the coaches and your teammates.”

Brouwer herself played for SMSU from 2006-09.

“I have to admit … I’m pretty proud she’s going there,” Brouwer said. “And I know Sydney is just going to thrive in that environment. So I’m excited to see where it takes her and for her to be close to home and to have that ability to go see her play.”

The Mustangs are 11-1 and ranked eighth in the latest Division II poll. Their first-year head coach, Tyler Boddy, previously coached Sydney in JO volleyball.

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“I know he’s a good coach; he coached my sister’s team when they won nationals a couple years ago,” Sydney said. “And I just like his style. He’s really honest, which I appreciated through the recruiting process.”

Playing in a tough Camden Conference and an even tougher Section 3A in the postseason, MACCRAY is hoping for more saves, sets and spikes from Sydney’s all-around skill set.

“She’s an ideal player to have on your team, that’s for sure,” Brouwer said. “She’s a threat in any and every way, honestly. She works hard all the time, she brings it every day in practice and she leads by example. She’s a great kid and she’s smart academically. She’s a great role model to the kids not only on the court but off the court.”

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