Some all-star teams simply feature the best players based on statistics but the actual team construction makes no sense. That's why the NBA All-Star Game can look more like the Harlem Globetrotters taking on the Tribune Sports Department instead of the NBA Finals.
That's not the Tribune's Volleyball All-Area First Team. Not even close.
This All-Area First Team is chock-full of talent, sure, but all six members provide something unique that would frustrate other coaches and leave the opposition wishing they had taken up a different sport. Versatility is a key trait of this team, as is dominance. All six members of this year's top team wowed crowds and left legacies.
Five seniors and one sophomore earned first team honors, highlighted by a pair of players from last year's first team. Combined with a strong crop of talent in this year's honorable mention team, it's clear this team is stacked.
Willmar, Senior, Setter
Most teams that lose an All-State setter like Esther Grussing are going to fall to earth the following season. Willmar, however, continued to thrive largely because of Carly Wedel. The senior hitter-turned-setter embraced the new position largely because it wasn't all that new to her. The 6-foot-2 Wedel is a natural setter, playing the position throughout her Junior Olympic career, so the new challenge her senior year actually felt like returning home. In her only season as the Cardinals' setter, Wedel controlled the offense with an unparalleled savvy. She tallied 775 set assists (8.2 per set) and guided Willmar to a Section 8AAA final. The Cardinals discussed using a 6-2 formation early in the year but it wasn't long before Wedel had full control of the reins. Her experience as a hitter allowed her to have a keen ability to find weak spots in the defense and turn a would-be pass into a sneaky kill.
"Carly runs a fast offense, has great hands and sees the opposition's block well," said Willmar head coach Traci Grussing. "While running a 5-1 offense, Carly is still one of our leading attackers. Carly serves tough and plays good defense and is a huge force at the net."
She finished the year with 178 kills and 39 ace serves. Wedel proved to be a do-it-all player, too. She racked up 71 blocks and tallied 241 digs. She'll head on to play Division I volleyball at South Dakota State University but she won't be forgotten at Willmar. She's in the record books with the best single season hitting efficiency (.370) and the fourth-most career kills (850).
BOLD, Senior, Outside Hitter
Makenna Steffel feel comfortable in any gym and makes her opponents feel incredibly uncomfortable. She's one of the best basketball players in recent area history but it's volleyball where she rises high above the rest. Steffel led the area with 377 kills, helping propel the BOLD Warriors to a Section 2A final. The Warrior outside hitter also finished the season with 314 digs, 32 blocks and 29 ace serves. She can make the game of volleyball look easy but it's been far from that throughout her career. Prior to her senior season, injuries have proven to be a problem but her athleticism and knowledge of the game has always come through. Her senior season was a masterclass to see what she was truly capable of. She logged 45.7 percent of her 825 career kills in 2018. In addition to her time as an outside hitter this season, Steffel also moonlighted as a middle blocker and setter throughout her career. She'll head to Northern State University to play volleyball with 221 career set assists, 59 ace serves, 183 blocks and 660 digs under belt.
"She has always been a threat, but she has been on an entirely different level this season," said BOLD head coach Brittany Keltgen. "Makenna has the ability to take over matches and terminate against good teams and has demonstrated that countless times throughout the season. Her leadership through her words and play have been so valuable to our team's success. She is the kind of athlete that does not come around very often, and I feel incredibly lucky to be to able to coach her."
BBE, Senior, Outside Hitter
The BBE Jaguars earned a trip to the state tournament in 2018 because of a well-balanced team with an overpowering attack and resolute defense that featured contributions from each and every player. At the top of the box score most nights, though, was Ally Gruber.
The senior outside hitter overwhelmed opponents with an onslaught of new attacks. She finished her 2018 season with 376 kills, second-most in the area, and proved to be a go-to hitter when the Jaguars needed. She recorded 43 kills in the state tournament alone, helping the Jaguars to a fourth-place finish. She wrapped up the year with a team-best 41 ace serves and added 20 solo blocks and 292 digs to complement her all-around game. Gruber, a four-year starter, wraps up her career with 909 career kills, 785 digs and 206 blocks.
"She spends countless hours working on perfecting her game," said BBE head coach Kevin Weller. "She's a very high intensity player who continually rallies her teammates."
BBE, Sophomore, Setter
The high-powered Jaguars needed somebody to get the ball to their hitters and Karsee Kampsen was the perfect person for the job. Kampsen easily led the area with 1,010 set assists, good for an average of 10.5 assists per set. She powered a Jaguar team like a selfless point guard in basketball, dishing to whoever had the hottest hand as BBE rolled to a 27-6 record. Four different Jaguars logged 200 or more kills and it's largely because of Kampsen's passing ability. The sophomore setter is the only non-senior of this year's first team and has the skills to cement her spot for the coming years as well. She added 198 digs and 33 ace serves in 2018 and, largely thanks to 110 set assists in the state tournament, eased past 2,000 career set assists. She now sits at 2,072 with a bright future ahead.
"Karsee has been starting since eighth grade and continues to break records each year," Weller said. "Her court sense and ability to ready defenses improves with each game. She has the ability to put a set where defenders have a hard time setting their block."
Morris/Chokio-Alberta, Senior, Libero
Decker is back on the Tribune's All-Area first team thanks to a relentless defensive effort and strong leadership. The senior libero logged 444 digs in 2018, seemingly covering every open area on the court and frustrating every other team's hitters. Decker already held the school record for digs heading into 2018 but she surpassed 2,000 career digs in her final match, a Section 3AA final against Marshall, and wrapped up an impressive career with 2,006 digs to push the record to likely unreachable territory. The very fact the Tigers returned to a section championship after graduating two All-Area first teamers (setter Karly Fehr and outside hitter Jenna Howden) from last year's team is a huge credit to Decker. This year's Tigers team looked new in many ways but Decker was a uniting force, who also logged 36 ace serves and 64 set assists. Decker will play volleyball in college for Concordia-St. Paul.
"She's the best passer I have ever coached," said Morris/CA head coach Caleb Greene. "She is so instinctive and seems to always be where the ball is hit."
MACCRAY, Senior, Middle Hitter
For the past few years, coaches in the Camden Conference have dreaded a trip to Clara City because of a towering presence in the center of the court. Piper Asche was a gamechanger throughout her high school career, giving opposing coaches fits while being a go-to hitter for the Wolverines. She reached 357 kills in 2018, easily passing 1,000 career kills. She joins Decker as the only returning members of the Tribune's first team and, like Decker, Asche will continue her volleyball career in college. Asche intends to play volleyball at Augustana.
"Piper is a smart player who has an aggressive attack and sees the court well," said MACCRAY head coach Terese Bourne. "She has been a strong leader for MACCRAY the past two years."