This is not the same Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines team that won the Class 2A state title last season.
That’s not to say it’s not as capable of bringing home a trophy.
This year’s Wolverines head into their fourth straight state tournament with a 24-7 record and the No. 1 Quality Results Formula ranking of the eight tournament teams. The favorite, however, would be Marshall, which owns a 27-4 record, the Associated Press’ No. 1 ranking and the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
“Everyone knew they had everyone back from last year’s team, which also had a good showing in the state tournament,” said W-DC head coach Sue Volkmann said of Marshall. “The expectations for them were to be the No. 1 team like they are and to get the state title. They’ve done those things so far. Their only losses were to top 3A teams in the state. They are the favorites by a long shot.”
W-DC could face the heavy favorite in the state semifinals. First they’ll need to dispatch the Visitation Blazers 5 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinal round.
The Blazers enter the state tournament with a 24-6 mark. They have won their last seven matches, including the Section 4-2A championship against St. Croix Lutheran.
Visitation’s losses were to Lakeville South, Burnsville, Rosemount, LeSueur-Henderson, Marshall and Prior Lake.
The Blazers won the Tri-Metro Conference with a 12-0 record and own a QRF ranking of nine. The Blazers were not ranked in the final AP poll.
W-DC’s losses were against Minneapolis Southwest, Moorhead and Bemidji twice. The Wolverines are on an eight-game win streak.
“I would say we’re playing some really good volleyball here at the end,” said Volkmann. “We didn’t play too well against Thief River Falls (in the Section 8-2A final), but some of that was because of the opponent. But we’re playing some of our best volleyball at the right time.”
Offensively, the Wolverines are led by senior outside hitter Brittney Noon, who has 407 kills, 163 digs and 137 blocks. Junior middle hitter Emily Miron follows with 338 kills, 223 block and 54 digs. Junior outside hitter Caitlin Volkmann has 138 kills, 389 digs and 57 blocks.
Heather Theisen is the sophomore setter for W-DC. She has 876 set assists, 269 digs, 59 blocks and 19 kills.
“About the only thing this year’s team has in common with last year’s team is a lot of our defensive kids are back and that has been what has carried us this year,” said Volkmann. “These are two completely different kinds of teams. Last year, the better skilled players on offense were our seniors and we had Courtney (Volkmann, who was the Class 2A player of the year) setting. That was a huge difference.
“This year was a growing experience for us. We have a lot of young, new kids playing major positions so it took some time for them to get better and jell.”
Sophomore Hope Theisen is the libero and leads the Wolverines’ defense with 434 digs and a 93-percent serve receive. Sydney Schissel is a defensive specialist who has 215 digs and an 83 percent serve receive. Senior Avery Jackson has 256 digs, Junior middle hitter Melissa Moenkedick has added 174 blocks.
“Hope Theisen is one of the best liberos in the state and she’s only a sophomore, but she really makes plays,” said Volkmann. “We have some offense, but defense can really carry you a long ways. Defense can be the difference-maker in the title game. I would say a powerful offense with an average defense will lose out every time to a good defense with an above-average offense.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.