The Blaine volleyball team entered the season with higher expectations than most teams in Minnesota.
With the No. 2 rank by the coaches association in Class AAA, the Bengals are on everyone’s radar but will find out what kind of team they have soon at the Apple Valley Tournament next weekend.
Last year the girls were on a 7-0 run before playing in the Apple Valley Tournament, a premier regular season volleyball tournament, in late September.
The girls were up against most of the teams ranked in the top 10 in Class AAA and swept the eventual state runner ups Lakeville North in the semifinal and beat another top-ranked team Bloomington Jefferson in the final.
As the defending Apple Valley Tournament champion, Blaine is aiming for a repeat Sept. 21-22.
“It was huge for us,” head coach Celeste Gorman said of winning the tournament last year. “We didn’t honestly feel like we played our best and still found a way to win. It’s a great test. We really like how many good ranked and unranked teams show up for that tournament.”
It’s not going to be easy with No. 1 Lakeville North, No. 3 Eagan, No. 4 Eden Prairie, No. 5 Wayzata, No. 7 Waconia and the No. 1 Class AA team Marshall and No. 1 Class A team Bethlehem Academy in attendance.
Good things tend to happen to the Apple Valley Tournament winners. The 2010 winners Wayzata finished second at state and the winner in 2008 and 2009, Shakopee, won the state title.
Blaine also went on to play at state last November after winning the Apple Valley Tournament and earned the No. 1 seed. Although the Bengals went 0-2 at state, the girls are anxious to get back there.
“I think they’re capable of more than we think,” Gorman said. “There’s a lot of heart on this team. That combined with the talent and the work ethic, this team will do big things. I don’t know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but they’ll do well.”
Gorman admitted the No. 2 rank in Class AAA doesn’t mean much.
“We don’t pay any kind of attention,” Gorman said. “I think the media and people who aren’t playing and fans and teachers and administrators like that. It gets more people to the games, but it doesn’t mean anything. We were ranked first in the state tournament last year and we didn’t win it. Rank us where ever you want.”
The rank has held up so far.
The girls aced their first big test of the year beating the Minnetonka Skippers, which was ranked No. 5 in Class AAA at the time, by scores of 25-13, 25-16, 25-22 on Sept. 4.
The Bengals made quick work of Coon Rapids in the opener on Aug. 28 winning 25-17, 25-10, 25-5 and defeated a formidable Osseo program 25-19, 28-30, 25-18, 25-17 on Sept. 6.
The girls are getting it done with an army of accomplished veterans.
Alex Brown, who has a “never-say-die” attitude according to Gorman, joins the heady, consistent outside hitter Katherine Hawkins and the versatile setter/hitter Siara Trost as captains.
Their talents will compliment junior Lydia Dimke whom Gorman called “probably one of the best hitters and setters in the state.”
Dimke’s height and ability to play many roles will allow the team to match up with just about anyone it faces.
Taylor Morgan and Jessica Jorgensen have taken over as middle blockers and newcomer Rebecca Hawkins adds another element to the passing game.
The Bengals are focused on winning the Northwest Suburban Conference for now.
“I think our conference is tougher than some people give us credit for,” Gorman said. “We always have two teams in the state tournament that do really well.
“We try to take care of the ball, and control the things we can control and play the percentages on the things we can’t,” she said.
The Bengal volleyball October schedule features Maple Grove Oct. 4, Elk River Oct. 9 and Anoka Oct. 16.
Andy Rogers is at firstname.lastname@example.org