WILLMAR — It was a goal to be a high school volleyball coach. That it's happening right now in her hometown makes it all the more exhilarating for Leah Ruter.

The 2015 Willmar High School graduate is new the head coach of the volleyball program. Her hire was announced Friday.

"I'm excited," Ruter said. "It all kind of happened at once."

Ruter replaces her former head coach, Tracy Grussing, who resigned after the 2020 season and a very successful second run as the Cardinals' head coach.

Ruter returned to the area in when she was hired in January as a physical education instructor at Lakeland Elementary School in Willmar. She landed that position after doing her student teaching in the fall in Jamestown, North Dakota.

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She's a graduate of Valley City State University in North Dakota, where she played three years on the volleyball team after transferring from the University of Minnesota-Morris. Ruter said UM-Morris didn't offer her major, health and physical education.

While in Valley City, she said she learned a great deal and was a student assistant coach with the Vikings in 2019. Her experience there and with Valley City's Junior Olympic volleyball program as a coach, as well as working summer camps has Ruter believing she's ready to take on a varsity high school job and isn't concerned about continuing the program's success.

"I honestly haven't thought about it that way," Ruter said. "I know Tracy is a good coach.

"I've had a lot of different experience levels with different teams and I've learned coaching skills from a lot of different people."

She credits Steve Rindfleisch as being a mentor. He was an assistant volleyball coach at Valley City State and is currently as assistant the University of North Dakota, an NCAA Division I program.

Ruter takes over a team that is coming off a Central Lakes Conference championship, but lost all-conference members Bailey Olson, Lydia Larson and Abby Stark. The Cardinals were 10-0 last fall and 13-1 overall when the season was short-circuited before the section playoffs because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Returning from that squad is Sydney Schnichels, who also earned all-conference honors.

"I remember coaching her in sixth or seventh grade," Ruter said.

Willmar's volleyball staff will return intact, making the transition smoother.

"They're all going to stay," Ruter said. "They have a lot of experience."