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Previews: Area volleyball offers wide mix of talented programs

Another exciting high school volleyball season is about to begin as the calendar turns to September. Lots of optimism fills the gyms throughout Carlton County as fresh faces try to replace the graduates. Before previewing this upcoming season, let's recap how things ended in 2021.

The state has four divisions for volleyball: AAAA - the largest schools dictated by enrollment, followed by AAA, AA and A. Duluth East is the only AAAA school in our area. Rankings are based on a Quality Results Formula, or QRF. The formula factors in a team's wins and losses as well as its opponents' wins and losses.

Last season in AAA, Grand Rapids defeated Cloquet to earn the state berth. Out of 61 teams in AAA, in our area the top QRF rankings were Grand Rapids (7), Cloquet (14) and Hermantown (15).

There are 125 schools competing in AA. The top finishers in our area were state qualifier Greenway (11), Proctor (21), Esko (58), Virginia (64) and Moose Lake (86).

The largest grouping of schools is in Class A,with a total of 158 volleyball teams competing for bids to state. Last year, South Ridge pulled the upset over higher-ranked Barnum to claim the spot. Barnum finished the year ranked at 25, South Ridge 30, Northeast Range 32, Floodwood 36, Cromwell 89, Carlton 94 and Wrenshall at 116.

So now that the teams have been picked and scrimmages are over, let's get a preview of our area volleyball programs.


Coach: Corina Newman, 17th year

Record last year: 22-4, season ended in section semifinals with a loss to Northeast Range

Returning starters: senior outside hitter Lily Higgins; junior middle hitter Ivy Polecheck; libero Naomi Poirier

Key losses: Lacie O'Leary, outside hitter; middle hitter Reese Miletich; Brooke Doran; setter KayeLea Poirier

Newcomers: Ava Moors, junior outside hitter; Aili Lund, sophomore middle hitter; Annika Bogenholm, junior setter; Reagan Warnygora, junior right side hitter

Expectations: "We lost a lot of experience," Newman said. "We are now looking for balance on the court. These girls have very little varsity experience and haven't played much together. We have good numbers but are looking at a couple of rebuilding years."

First match: Aug. 30 at home against Braham


Coach: Barb Soukkala, 29th season

Record last year: 7-16, season ended with a loss to South Ridge in first round of playoffs

Returning starters: Madison Asleson, senior middle hitter/setter; Eliza DeCaigny, senior outside hitter; Megan Mattarelli, junior middle hitter; Jaycee McMillen, freshman outside hitter

Key losses: Holly Grondahl, outside hitter; Carley Parker, setter

Newcomers: Mikayla Sundeen, senior setter

Expectations: "We are just trying to get better every day," Soukkala said. "Then we will see where we are at for the playoffs. I am still trying to figure out the lineup. Lots of girls could play different positions. We need to be more consistent and take care of the ball. We have a tough schedule with larger schools. And then the favorites in our section will probably be South Ridge, Floodwood and Esko."

First match: Aug. 30 at Deer River


Coach: Heidi Anderson, 18th season

Record last year: 22-7, season ended in loss to Grand Rapids in section championship

Returning starters: Aili Buytaert, senior middle hitter; Ava Carlson, junior outside hitter; Carly Johnson, junior setter; Quinn Danielson, junior libero; Blythe Proulx, junior middle hitter; Ashley Austin, senior outside hitter

Key losses: Emerson Rock, setter; Genevieve Fonoti, middle hitter; Breea Rasmussen, outside hitter; Laura Hecht, hitter

Newcomers: Ella Maslowski, sophomore setter; Lexi Niemi, junior defensive specialist; Ava Buchholz, junior middle hitter

Expectations: "We have a lot of versatile athletes and depth, so some players could be moved around if needed," Anderson said. "There is lots of talent, so no reason we should not be competing for conference championship again as well as section championship. A lot of tough teams in our section including Grand Rapids, Hermantown and North Branch."

First match: Aug. 25 at Proctor


Coach: Amy Granholm, 11th year

Record last year: 12-13, lost to Barnum in section semifinals

Returning starters: Sascha Korpela, senior middle hitter; Kyra Granholm, junior middle hitter; Siiena Anderson, sophomore setter; Jillian Anderson, junior outside hitter; Mya Gronner, junior outside hitter

Key losses: Andrea Pocernich, middle hitter; Scarlett Korpela, libero

Newcomers: Katie Metzer, junior setter

Expectations: "My expectations are to win," Granholm said. "We need more kills with less hitting errors. Our girls are stronger now with faster arm swings. We are hoping to advance to more than fundamentals by watching setters and hitters and trying to defend."

First match: Sept. 1 at Carlton


Coach: Pete Stasiuk, second year

Record last year: 12-15, lost to Rush City in second round

Returning starters: Gabby Martinson, senior right side hitter; Kaitelyn Lattner, senior setter; Hanna Nooyen, senior outside hitter; Lizzie Hartlieb, senior libero

Key losses: Maddison South, middle hitter; Jordan Wahling, middle hitter; Addee Sertich, defensive specialist

Newcomers: Kallie Sinnot, junior middle hitter; Alaina Peterson, senior middle hitter; Emerson Harker, junior middle hitter; Chiara Howser, sophomore middle hitter; Cassie Stark, sophomore outside hitter

Expectations: "Last year was disappointing, getting knocked out in the playoffs so soon," Stasiuk said. "But this might be the best team I have ever coached. We are very deep in talent and it is a tight-knit group. They are very hard workers."

First match: Aug. 26 at home versus Two Harbors

Moose Lake/Willow River

Coach: Caitlin Miller, first year

Record: 11-19

Background: Miller takes over for Kelsey Swanstrom as head coach. She is a former setter for the Rebels, graduating in 2007 and a high school English teacher in the district.

Returning starters: Greta Barrett, senior libero; Hannah Roach, senior outside hitter; Alexis Hoffman, senior middle hitter; Morgan Wiggs, senior middle hitter; Sarah Christy, senior right side hitter; Laura Stephenson, senior setter; Jorja Jusczak, junior setter

Newcomers: India Johnson, junior outside hitter

Expectations: "We have a taller team, so we are focusing on getting big blocks and playing solid defense," Miller said. "We are a hard-hitting offense and we have lots of talent. The girls have been a lot of fun so far."

First match: Aug. 30 at Hinckley Finlayson

South Ridge

Coach: Brad Olesiak, 14th season

Record last year: 21-8, made it to the state tournament as Section 7A champion. First time in the history of South Ridge or AlBrook or Cotton that the volleyball team qualified for the state tournament.

Returning starters: Rylee Young, senior setter; Lauren Olson, junior outside hitter; Svea Snickers, junior; Mercedes Lawrence, sophomore middle hitter; Kaitaia Klementsen, junior middle hitter

Key losses: Bella Schneider, setter; Felicia Preston, outside hitter

Newcomers: Lillian Josephson, freshman hitter; Kaitaia Snickers

Expectations: "The goal is to get back to state," Olesiak said. "We have to keep working hard every day. We have a lot of potential, but still lots of work to do. We have a tough schedule. Floodwood, Ely and Esko are all tough. And we picked up Pine River-Backus to make it even more tough."

First match: Sept. 3 at home against Two Harbors


Coach: John Peterson, fourth season

Record last year: 8-18, lost to Barnum in second round

Returning starters: Janae Sjodin, senior outside hitter; Hanna Pearthree, senior setter; Francesca Klimek, senior right side hitter; Liberty Bilgus, junior middle hitter

Key losses: Lost entire starting lineup with the exception of Sjodin

Newcomers: Elizabeth Johnson, sophomore middle hitter; Gracelyn Johnson, sophomore middle hitter; Keely Bergman, sophomore right side hitter

Expectations: "We want to play well and adjust as some girls are playing different positions," Peterson said. "There will be some learning adjustments. But the girls all have positive attitudes. ... Favorites in our section look to be South Ridge, Floodwood and Cromwell."

First match: Aug. 29 at East Central

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