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Somerset's Kendrah Wink goes up for a hit attempt during the tournament played in River Falls last week. (Photo by Bob Burrows)

Spartans starting fresh in 2013

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This isn't the Somerset volleyball team you are accustomed to seeing.

Somerset coach Sarah Praschak said she hasn't had a Spartan team this inexperienced since the 1990s.

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The youthful roster has put the Spartans and the team's coaches in a mode of learning, and doing it quickly.

It is a young Spartan team in terms of age, as well as experience. Three of the varsity players are making the step up from eighth grade volleyball.

"There's a lot of adjustments as far as the speed of the game," Praschak said of making the step from junior high ball to the varsity level.

The Spartans went through an extremely intense first two weeks of the season. The first week was a crash course on the basics of the team's strategy. It was also a hurried effort for the coaches to get familiar with the skills of the young players. The second week had several practices wrapped around tournaments in River Falls and Menomonie.

"We had a big job to complete in a very difficult week, but a lot of good things came out of it," Praschak said of the opening week of practice. "It's a starting point for us."

The Spartans recorded one win in the two tournaments, but Praschak said winning wasn't the main concern in either tournament. The coaches were looking to build a comfort zone among the girls and get them started at communicating on the court.

"Communication is a major goal because we're so young," Praschak said. If we can communicate, the skills will come."

Only two Spartans return to the team with significant varsity experience. Senior Megan Starry was the team's libero last season and senior Miranda O'Rourke was in the rotation as a middle hitter.

Starry will return to the libero role this season. Freshman Haley Bassett will join Starry in the defensive specialist role for the team.

O'Rourke is one of four players competing for time as leftside hitters. She's joined in that station by Rachel Helgeson, Abbie Rivard and McKenzie Erickson.

The middle hitters will be Rachel Plourde and Kendrah Wink, with Helgeson as the primary backup. Helgeson will be a primary reserve at nearly every position because the coaches are confident in her knowledge and skills.

"She is the player I can put anywhere and she can perform the skill," Praschak said.

Freshman Tori Martell will be the team's rightside hitter, with Alyssa Willett as her primary backup. Willett will also see time on defense and as a serving specialist.

The setters will be Baily Paulus and Jessica Tarter who are both moving up from last year's junior varsity squad. The Spartans began the season using a 6-2 system, but the coaches felt it was too much for the players to master at this stage.

"We're doing a modified 5-1 with two setters. That helped a lot," Praschak said.

Praschak said the team is largely at the same experience level, so they can be taught all the same skills and strategies. She said it is important that the team learns from its early losses.

"The biggest thing is they are determined. That goes a long way, along with their character," Praschak said.

The Spartans lost their three matches in the tournament at River Falls, against Spring Valley, New Richmond and the host team. Serving was one of the team's best assets, with 12 ace serves and three missed serves the entire night.

"We struggled with serve receive and communication We're trying to find the rhythm on our team and a lineup that is going to best highlight everyone's strengths," Praschak said.

Plourde led the team with team with eight kills. O'Rourke and Martell each had five kills.

On Friday and Saturday the Spartans played in the Menomonie Sprawl tournament, placing 24th among 30 teams. The Spartans won once in their seven matches. Plourde and Martell led the team in kills. Willett and Martell were the team's leaders in serve receiving. Paulus topped the team in serves and assists.

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Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
(715) 243-7767 x242
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