Wolverines poised for second straight State B
By Jay Davis
Last year the Herreid-Selby Area Wolverines were one of the newcomers at the state tournament. The same cannot be said today as the Wolverines enter the State B Volleyball Tournament in Mitchell as the number three seed with a 28-2 record.
In their first trip to the final eight, the Wolverines bounced back from an opening round defeat to win fifth place and the consolation championship. Their sights are set higher this time around.
“Our girls are excited to be returning to the state tournament,” said coach Jody Schmidt. “Our season has been successful, but the icing on the cake would be doing better than last year. By having such a good regular season, we put ourselves into a position to get into the top three.”
The first hurdle the Herreid-Selby Area girls will face on their quest will be a familiar foe. The third seeded Wolverines will play six seed James Valley Christian (21-6) in the opening round at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Wolverines defeated the Lady Vikings 3-2 in the consolation championship at last year’s state tournament.
“JVC is a team that doesn’t make many mistakes,” said Schmidt. “We saw them at state last year and we also got a chance to see them at team camp this summer. Their setter has very high volleyball intelligence and they have two pretty decent outside hitters.
The Lady Vikings’ setter is senior Tara Nihart, who has 507 of the team’s 612 assists this year. She is also their top server with 60 aces. Nihart can move around court and has 103 kills and 245 digs on the season. The top outside hitters are not tall, but have racked up good numbers. Senior Jaclyn Loban is 5’7” and has 239 kills. Junior Kristen William is 5’6” and has 227 kills. Their depth up front includes senior Leslie Brondsmen (6’0”, 68 blocks, 76 kills) and senior Ariana Zuccaro (5’4”, 343 digs, 121 kills).
“We will need to bring our ‘A’ game and continue to do what has gotten us this far,” said Schmidt.
One of the big things the Wolverines have done this year is get the ball to setter McKenzie Frank in good position so she can, in turn, get the ball to middle hitters Shauni Schwartz and Haylee Biel.
Schwartz (5’10” senior) and Biel (6’0” junior) are commanding presences at the net, combining for 591 kills and 143 blocks.
Schwartz is the offensive leader with 320 kills to go with 57 blocks and 14 service aces.
“Shauni is that all-around player who is consistent,” said Schmidt. “She hates to lose, which comes in handy when the game is on the line. She is willing to step up and get the job done.”
Biel leads the defense with 86 blocks, an average of nearly three blocks per outing, while hitting 271 kills.
“Haylee brings the fire and spirit to the team,” said Schmidt. “She is a game changer both offensively and defensively.”
Frank (5’4” senior) has been an impact player since moving from libero to setter this season. Frank dished 544 assists during the regular season, while setting with a 98-percent success rate. Her passing helped the Wolverines knock down a team total of 930 kills (district and region included). She also leads the team in aces with 45 and is second in digs with 223.
“Kenzie is the coach on the floor,” said Schmidt. “She sets the offense and makes sure all players are where they need to be.”
No team is just three players deep and the Wolverines are deeper than most. Senior Kendra Thorstenson plays all over the court with 132 assists, 40 kills, 157 digs, 23 blocks and 37 aces. Sophomore Abbey Fjeldheim leads defensively with 351 digs. Junior Kelsey Quaschnick has 83 kills and sophomore Jana Thorstenson has 66. Seniors Kayla Olson and Devonia Meidinger are two more players who have stepped up big when needed.
One player the Wolverines have missed since early in the season has been Taylor Madden. The senior hitter suffered a knee injury early in the season and has not played since, although she will be in uniform and may see some action serving this weekend.
Injuries to a key player this year and other like scenarios in the past have convinced Schmidt that quality depth is a key to a successful team.
“I try to have a quality sub at every position,” said Schmidt.
In the last regular season game, Frank came down with the flu. Olson and Kendra Thorstenson came in and helped the team win a match that was key to their earning the three seed at state.
“Depth creates competition for spots, creates team unity, creates better practice sessions and creates a safety net for injuries,” said Schmidt.
With their talent, experience and depth, the Wolverines are ready for James Valley Christian and whoever else they will meet at the Corn Palace.