Heading into the 2006 season, Blaine volleyball coach Celeste Gorman had 10 seniors and the result was a third-place state trophy, her first since taking over the program a year earlier.
This season, the Bengals have 10 seniors on the roster and hopes of equaling if not improving on an amazing 2012 campaign that concluded with a 32-2 overall record, its fourth section title under Gorman and third place in the state.
Blaine has a lot going for it ahead of the 2013 season with the players returning combined with some hungry underclassmen ready to continue the success.
The Bengals posted back-to-back perfect seasons in the Northwest Suburban Conference, including a 21-match winning streak.
Senior captains Lydia Dimke and Jessica Jorgensen grew even closer during the off-season after helping their club team, Mizuno Northern Lights 17-1 finish seventh at the United States Junior National Championships in June.
They placed very high in other tournaments and continued to develop a partnership on the court that began nearly two years ago. Dimke, a Purdue University prospect, plans to graduate from high school early in order to get a jump-start on the college off-season schedule. Jorgensen will play at North Dakota State next fall.
Dimke is among the state’s top overall players as a server, setter and hitter. Her focus this off-season was a perfect setting season, combined with even more service aces.
“She looks how you would hope a D1 athlete would look,” Gorman said about Dimke’s progress so far. “She’s a great leader on and off the court and is doing a great job competing and pushing everyone else.”
Dimke is within striking distance of the state aces record.
“Their communication is amazing and well-orchestrated on the court. They’re going to be a hard combination to stop,” Gorman said. “I’d say our middles [Taylor Morgan, Dimke and Jorgensen] are comparable to some of the best [in the state.]”
That go-to connection includes junior middle hitter Morgan, who earned a spot on the Class AAA All-Tournament team as the only middle hitter out of seven overall hitters on the team.
Morgan, Alyssa Vo and Brook Christenson played for on the same 17-1 team at Wicked Moose Club, based in Fridley, and will be juniors this fall.
Preseason practice has revolved around controlling the areas of the game which they can control like serve and serve receive. “If we get those down well, we’ll do well,” Gorman said, focusing on short-term goals.
However, the Bengals graduated a number of key defensive players.
So far, learning the defensive system and developing team chemistry are two areas of work. Gorman said the mindset of the team and coaches coming into the season is that there is still has a lot of work to be done to be ready to go.
“We have to instill a sense of focus on the process, so we don’t get comfortable and not rest on last year’s results,” she said. “Right now it’s short-term goals.”
Challenges for only a few open spots in the starting rotation mean the level of competition early on is already at a high level.
“We have some seniors who are going to do some good things for us and younger kids pushing the older kids,” Gorman said.
Outside hitters like McKayla Berres, Brooke Christenson and freshman Sophie Stamonic will looked to provide depth.
Gorman likes the way Stamonic is playing. “It’s a huge responsibility for a freshman as an outside hitter,” Gorman said. “She looks great and now we’re looking for some consistency. Defensively she keeps right up [with what we’re doing.]”
Senior defensive specialist Allison Brisky is someone Gorman appreciates because of her willingness to do whatever it takes for the team. “She scrappy and really fast,” Gorman said.
Barres appears to be in line to take over Alex Brown’s position as libero. “She looks really comfortable and mature,” Gorman said about the senior moving away from her natural spot as an outside hitter. “She hasn’t played defense, but has the most varsity experience and good poise. We want her to keep getting better and we have a handful of kids who have a shot at it.”
2012: 31-2 (10-0, won NWSC), won Section 5AAA, 2-1 in Class AAA state tournament, defeated Shakopee 3-2 to win third-place game.
Captains: Lydia Dimke, Jessica Jorgenson and McKayla Berres.
Returners: Taylor Morgan, Lydia Dimke, Jessica Jurgensen, Rebecca Hawkins, Madison Michalski, Allison Briski, McKayla Berres, Brooke Christenson and Rachel Zins.
Schedule (date, opponent) 7 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 28 vs. Hill-Murray
Sept. 3 at Minnetonka
Sept. 5 at Coon Rapids
Sept. 10 vs. Osseo
Sept. 12 at Andover
Sept. 17 vs Owatonna (homecoming)
Sept. 19 vs. Armstrong (homecoming)
Sept. 20 at Apple Valley (Eagle Invite)
Sept. 24 vs. Champlin Park
Sept. 28 Blaine Invite, 9 a.m.
Oct. 1 vs. Park Center
Oct. 3 at Maple Grove
Oct. 8 vs. Elk River
Oct. 10 at Centennial
Oct. 11-12 at Eastview Invite, 9:30 a.m.
Oct. 15 at Anoka
Oct. 17 vs. St. Michael-Albertville
Jason Olson is at email@example.com