by ADAM GRUENEWALD
The Central High School volleyball team returns a strong core looking to build on a 12-12 season last year.
Fourth-year head coach Sarah Hammers, who teaches world history and eighth grade geography at Central, expects the team to improve this year as they return nine seniors.
“This year a lot of conference teams have lost a lot of their big players so I’m thinking with some of the seniors we have we could finish a lot higher,” said Hammers.
Outside hitter Nicole Miller and captain setter Natalie Stockman highlight the group of seniors including setter Jen Oelfke, defensive specialist Anna Willems, setter Abby Forner, middle hitter Sami Brinkmann, outside hitter Ashley Luskey and right side Meagan Sons.
Miller, an outside hitter, earned all conference honors in the Minnesota River Conference last year for the Raiders.
She led the team with 281 kills and 38 aces and was second in digs 292 and receptions 437..
“She did a lot of work in the off-season and will be a very strong lefty on the outside,” said Hammers. “Her and (Kaylie) Brazil, one our junior returning players passed serve receive all last year and having their experience coming back is going to be good.”
Brazil, the libero, dug out 378 balls and had 603 receptions.
“Brazil is the key in the junior class,” said Hammers. “We’ll expect some strong play from the juniors.”
Stockman, the setter, recorded 428 assists, 39 kills, 25 aces and 255 digs last season for the Raiders.
“This will be her third year setting,” said Hammers. “She’s also a very strong defender.”
Brinkmann recorded 170 kills last year to go with 50 blocks.
Hammers said the team will certainly have experience, but there are also talent in the young ranks as four freshmen will play on junior varsity and five eighth-graders will play on the ninth grade team.
“We’ve got some young talent coming up that I’m real excited about,” she said. “As we go through the season we’re always looking at them, but I think were going to have a lot of underclassmen there.”
In terms of the schedule, the Raiders will take part in three tournaments in September, rather than the usual two, to increase their chances of success in conference play. The tournaments include Howard Lake Waverly Winsted on Sept. 7, Waterville on Sept. 14 and Sibley East on Sept. 21.
Hammers expects Mayer Lutheran, Belle Plaine, Jordan and LeSueur-Henderson to be among the top teams in the conference and Hammers thinks her team will be in that group.
“It’s going to be a toss up I think this year because every single game we go against it’s going to be tough,” said Hammers.
“I expect us to be above .500 and I expect us to be fighting for that top half of the conference,”
Central opens up hosting Lester Prairie on Aug. 27 and will begin MRC play with Mayer Lutheran at home on Sept. 5.
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]