Volleyball fans have been treated to great action on the court and in the sand with the gold medal-winning USA women’s team, and the sand volleyball gold-medal duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
It comes at the perfect time as the opening of the college volleyball season is Friday night (Aug. 24) for head coach Jane Peterson and the Central Lakes College Raiders at the Ridgewater Classic in Willmar.
“It is a totally different level of play,” Peterson said of the Olympic game. “We are not 6-6 and we can’t move that fast or jump that high. But we have the same instincts when it comes to intensity. Just the Olympic spirit in general is uplifting to any athlete and it is good timing for us.”
Peterson says she has more volleyball conversation than usual with fans of the sport during the Olympics, and it can’t hurt selling the sport at the local level. “A lot more people talk to me about volleyball during the Olympics than most summers,” she said. “With the sand game, anyone who has been on their knees in the sand, and then they watch people go to their knees and get up and jump right away, it is amazing.”
She welcomes any motivation that her players get from it and she’s pleased with the level of her players’ performance at practice during the preseason.
“We have a longer pre-season, which is excellent,” Peterson said. “I don’t know if that is the reason that I am so much calmer because I don’t have so much to get in in so little time.”
It may also come from the fact that five sophomores return to a Raiders team that went 7-2 in division play last season. Crysta Christensen, Alanna Hansen, Hayley Hornick, Carlie Sweet and Alice Widmark return to anchor the squad. Peterson noted big improvement from Christensen and Hansen based on what she has seen in preseason practice.
Along with Hansen, Sweet and Widmark, freshman Sarah Miller is another former Brainerd Warrior who joins the Raiders this year.
“There is a different feeling in the gym from the last couple of years,” Peterson said. “All of them, as a group, have good volleyball experience and skill level. There is just a lot of stuff that we don’t need to do that we practiced a lot in the last couple of years. It is really encouraging that we can start working on the little things.”
A strong opening part of the season has always been a staple for a Peterson-coached team, and it’s the case again this year. The Raiders play seven of their first nine matches on the road, and against tough competition.
“We have our first five matches against Division II schools,” she said. “There was a time of couple of years ago where I said that we just need to lose a little more and I just try to find the best teams that we can. I try to make the toughest schedule that I can.”
Peterson said the Raiders have more offensive options than in previous years, and the attack should be a fun one for fans to see.
“Offensively, we will be way more powerful than we have been in a long time,” Peterson said. “This year there are multiple options with people who are good above the net swinging hard and making good contact, and we have a number of people like that.”
Peterson is also pleased with the players who will provide a support role for this years team.
“There are four or five people that will never play in the front row but they have seen a lot of volleyball,” she said. “They won’t make every play every time, but they want to know why. We talk a lot about being engaged learners and they have a lot of questions and it is great that they are working to be better players.”
As a coach who has taken teams to national championships, Peterson challenges herself during the offseason to get better relationship building with her players.
“I am an engaged learner and since last year I have read a lot of stuff on motivation and how people learn motor skills,” she said. “And, I have spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with the returning players. Players can motivate me and I tell them that at the end of the season, that if they are working hard, it motivates me to work harder.”
Crysta Christensen, OH, Pine River-Backus
Alanna Hansen, MH/RS, Brainerd
Hayley Hornick, L, New Ulm
Carlie Sweet, MH, Brainerd
Alice Widmark, OH, Brainerd
Tatum Hall, S, Lake Park-Audubon
Tiffany Hartung, S, Holdingford
Sami Knott, M/OH, Maple Lake
Amanda Larson, OH, Superior, Wis.
Sarah Miller, L, Brainerd
Lindsay Monson, MH, Pierz
Kelana Wurtinger, S, Monticello