By Tera White
FOR THE LAKER
The Mound Westonka High School volleyball team has started the season with a victory under its belt beating Heritage Christian Academy in four sets at Hopkins SideOut Classic on Saturday Aug. 26, showing promise for the young team.
The program has a surge in participants this year compared to the last two seasons, with 34 athletes in the high school program, leaving the coaching staff excited for the upcoming season. Without any seniors playing, varsity coach Katie Jo O’Gara views not having many veterans as an opportunity for players to “step up in skilled game play as well as leadership.”
She said that a key component to developing the young team is to train, “a lot of our girls to be versatile in positions whether it be all the way around the floor or in various spots on the net”.
O’Gara also comments that “mental toughness and relentlessness” will be important keys to match up in the competitive Wright County Conference. One of the challenges O’Gara notes is that “younger players are more timid so we are also working on playing hard and aggressive yet smart all of the time.”
There are a few varsity returners including junior captains middle hitter Jennifer Schaible, setter Isabel Speakman and outside hitter Maddy White, as well as sophomores middle hitter Melissa Drill and middle hitter Sydney Ryks. The addition of freshman outside hitter Carissa Richie making the varsity front line the tallest the White Hawks have had in six seasons.
“Drill played a solid match on Saturday,” O’Gara said. “She was strong on offense and consistent on defense which helped set a bar for level of play.”
O’Gara notes that she sees “major potential” in a number of additional players and is looking for focus and drive in practice and “positional consistency” for the young players to earn a spot on the floor.
O’Gara is starting her 15th season as the head volleyball coach at MWHS. JV Coach Rachel Palm Larsen is in her sixth year of coaching volleyball and is a former White Hawk herself. New to the high school coaching staff this year is C-Squad coach Allison Persick. She played as a setter for NCAA Division II Winona State University and is an asset to the program in her first year of teaching.
“We as a coaching staff are excited to see what this season holds and hope to see the stands at our matches get more full each night,” O’Gara said. “Our athletes deserve the support of all students, staff and community members. I know they greatly appreciate the cheering in the stands, they enjoy putting on a show of skills they’ve acquired.”
Games begin Tuesday, Aug. 29 at home against Spectrum and away at St. Anthony Village on Thursday, Aug. 31.