2018 Preview: Young Somerset volleyball team will play with passion

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Call it passion, spirit, enthusiasm or fire.

It's an attribute coaches love to see in their team. The Somerset volleyball team may be one of the youngest squads in the Middle Border Conference this season, but opponents will be challenged to match the fire the Spartans bring into every match.

The Spartans start the season under new varsity coach Dennis Potter, who takes over for Sarah Praschak, who retired after a quarter-century in the program. Only two Spartans return who have significant varsity experience: seniors Brit Buchanan and Georgia Hammer.

The seniors will play key roles in the Spartan attack. Hammer will be a backrow specialist and will be a server extraordinaire. She had one of the highest serving percentages in the MBC last season. Buchanan will be an all-around player and will be an outside hitter. With her hitting experience, the Spartans are going to lean heavily upon her. Potter said he's instructed the setters to steer their passes toward Buchanan if the team is going through a difficult stretch.

Taking over as setter will be junior Stevie Haigh as the Spartans start the season with a 5-1 structure. Potter said he was won over by Haigh's demeanor and decision-making ability.

"And she sets a beautiful ball," he said.

The Spartans will start the season with an eight-player rotation on the varsity. Potter said other girls will have to play their way into the rotation.

"I'm playing to win," Potter said. "This is the lineup that gives us the best chance to win."

Junior Kristine Scherz will play as a right-side hitter after seeing limited action on the varsity last season. The other front line players will be sophomores and a freshman. Sophomore Taylor Paulson joins Buchanan as the team's leftside hitters. Sophomore Rachel Gaikowski and freshman Hope Baillargeon will be the middle hitters.

Sophomore Grace Lambert won the libero role by playing with a high energy level that Potter called "infectious."

Potter has been an assistant Spartan coach in the past, so he knows the game. He said he and the team will grow together as the coaches get to know the strengths of the girls better.

The Spartans opened their season last Tuesday, going 2-1 in the New Richmond quad meet. The Spartans defeated Hayward and Spring Valley before falling to New Richmond, a far more experienced team at this point. Potter was quite pleased with winning two matches.

"I would call it youthful exuberance," he said of the Spartans' play. "It's a group that likes to be coached. They're very willing to take on knowledge."

Potter was especially pleased with the win against Spring Valley. The games were close, but the Spartans found ways to come through with clutch plays to get the wins.

On Friday, the Spartans played in the Menomonie Sprawl, a huge tournament where the Spartans played seven matches over the two days. They drew some tough competition, losing all four of their matches on Friday. They dropped their first two matches on Saturday, but finished the meet with a 25-23, 25-20 win over Mondovi.

"I continue to be optimistic about this season. We show in flashes that we can compete," Potter said after the tournament. "We will win and lose because of a massive group effort. But I'm confident we can put things together and be competitive in the Middle Border (Conference)."