This is the year.
What was once a young nucleus is now a veteran group of seniors, players have momentum coming off a record-setting basketball season, and Aberdeen Christian has added a couple of key pieces to the puzzle. Put it all together and it’s easy to see why the expectation level is at an all-time high for the Knights volleyball team.
“I am very excited. I’m thrilled that we have our entire starting lineup back for this year, which is awesome,” said Christian coach Maggie Jett. “This group has been together for six years playing some varsity time. They’re seasoned and they’re ready to go. Obviously, our two new additions are exciting.”
The Knights will once again be led by senior jumping jack Mary Fites who has been the team’s top hitter and leader on the floor.
“She’s our constant. She’s just that consistent player we can rely on for serving, passing, defense, hitting,” Jett said. “It’s nice she gets a little bit of support on the offensive line this year instead of carrying the weight of having to kind of do it all.”
Other senior leaders include Grace Kaiser, setter Kaylee Block, Libero Joy Rohrbach and Ruth Hulscher. All are returning starters.
“Grace has really been stepping up this preseason hitting very well,” Jett said. “But really the whole team, you can feel their excitement for this year and you can really tell they’re putting the work in mentally and physically.”
Rohrbach’s presence in the backrow brings it all together and gives the squad a stabilizing factor.
“She’s key, because we’ve got the offensive tools now, but we can’t run our offense unless we can play defense and pass and she does that for us,” Jett said of Rohrbach. “Ruth has really been working hard on her defense and we have some girls coming off the bench that will come in.”
Sophomore Chloe Bosma also played major minutes on the varsity last season.
Then there is the addition of two tall, athletic girls in 6-foot-1 Hanna Miller and her 6-4 sister Mallory Miller. Each is expected to make a major impact both offensively and defensively.
“It kind of feels like we have a couple of the missing pieces of the puzzle this year which is nice, kind of rounding out the whole group,” Jett said.
Not only are the Millers tall, they can jump and have a competitive nature.
“It’s one thing to get two girls over six feet, it’s another thing to get two girls over six feet that are athletic,” Jett said. “Not only can they block, they can move, they’re agile, but most of all they’re gamers. They want it bad. You get a lot out of athletes that way.”
Christian, which opens its season hosting Ipswich on Tuesday, is a member of a powerhouse Region 1B field that also includes traditional kingpins Northwestern and Warner, and this season also includes Aberdeen Roncalli for the first time.
Jett views the challenge as an opportunity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. We get to play some of the best volleyball in South Dakota in my opinion for Class B. That sure makes us have to up our game,” she said. “If you’re going to get to go to state or post season you have to earn it wherever you are at.”
The Knights were one game away from qualifying for the state girls’ basketball tourney last spring. Jett said that momentum should carry over to volleyball.
“I would credit not only our success in volleyball, but most of these girls played basketball, too and they had a phenomenal year on the basketball court. Anytime you can get those wins racking up and you build your confidence, you carry that through,” she said. “I think these girls feel that they belong now. We belong in Region 1. We can compete with anybody in our region in my opinion and I think they feel it, too.”
Jett said while everybody would like to have a deep post-season run, the main goal right now is just to get better with each passing match and improve throughout the season.
While time will tell how things will shake out, one thing is for certain, there likely won’t be a more experienced team in the area this fall.
“I definitely think our offensive line is a big (strength) for us. With our height now it’s a game changer, but I think our biggest strength is just the team itself,” Jett said. “Everybody has been together for so long. They know each other so well. They love each other. They have fun together. They know how each other reacts on the court. Just that unity I think is going to be our biggest strength this year.”
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