One might excuse the Central Lakes College Raiders if they felt confident they will win this weekend’s Region 13B tournament at CLC.
During the regular season, the Raiders swept Mesabi and Itasca twice apiece and split with Northland. They open Friday night against Mesabi but CLC coach Jane Peterson is trying to prevent her team from being overconfident.
“We struggled through those two wins (against Mesabi), they weren’t totally decisive,” she said. “They have a very dominating outside hitter (Morgan Hanson) who’s hard to stop. They also have another very good, athletic middle hitter.
“They’re not someone we’re going to walk all over. Ask any coach, it’s nerve-wracking to beat a team twice and to try and beat them again. I’m trying not to be too nerve-wracked but I am a little bit.
“I want this team to have the opportunity to play in a national tournament. I’ve done it before, but they haven’t. It’s a really fun thing. I think they’re deserving, but we have to win games against teams that are competitive. This is a challenge. It’s not a given.”
Any opponent is going to have to contend with Lindsay Monson and Alanna Hansen, who have been a virtually impenetrable front wall for the Raiders (21-6).
Monson, a freshman from Pierz, has bashed 281 kills with 51 ace serves and 82 blocks. Hansen, a sophomore from Brainerd, cranked out 271 kills and 82 blocks.
Sami Knott of Maple Lake has added 200 kills. Crysta Christensen of Pine River-Backus recorded 42 ace serves.
“The key is if we play well defensively,” Peterson said. “That ‘Defense wins Championships’ saying is for a reason. If we can keep the ball on our side it has a good chance of going down on the other side.”
Defensively, Sarah Miller of Brainerd leads the Raiders with 382 digs. Tiffany Hartung of Holdingford leads in set assists (756). Carlie Sweet of Brainerd in blocks with 104.
“If we have an advantage that others don’t, it’s that we have enough people, and the right personnel, so Lindsay and Alanna can focus on what they’re best at,” Peterson said. “Then they don’t get frustrated across the back row. We have others who take care of that, and do that very well.
“The other thing we’re consistent at is receiving serves. We’ve made very few serve receive errors. Other teams don’t ace us often.
“Sarah, Hayley Hornick and Crysta pass almost all the time. If those three do their job, play defense, and pass the ball, we can stay in games. We know we’re not going to get overpowered by serves repeatedly. The beginning of the offense is passing the first ball.”
The tournament will be played during a busy weekend at CLC. On Saturday, the Raiders’ football team hosts Northland at 1:30 p.m. in the MCAC state semifinals. There could be a big crowd on campus for both events but Peterson doesn’t consider it a huge advantage to play at home.
“There is some comfort in being at home,” she said. “It might depend on how many people are in the gym and what kind of energy they have. Northland is here for football Saturday. If they all come Friday, it could be something.”
CLC has won seven of its last eight matches, including Peterson’s 500th career win Oct. 3 against Fond Du Lac. The Raiders’ only hiccup during that stretch was a 3-2 loss to Northland Oct. 17 at CLC.
“I think we had our letdown last week, losing to Northland,” Peterson said. “I’m hoping that it was a letdown and it’s not going to happen again. I’m not surprised we’re in the position we’re in, but it’s a different position for a lot of these players. They’re not used to being in this position.
“We’re totally focused on one (match) at a time. Playing in the region tournament there’s no greater motivation. We’ve prepared for each of these teams before, but we’re trying to focus on Friday night.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.