Central Lakes College volleyball coach Jane Peterson is an eternal optimist.
In Peterson's world, it is partly sunny rather than partly cloudy and the Raiders should contend for the national championship every year.
Even though the Raiders (22-8) have dropped three of four matches against Rainy River this fall, Peterson is confident CLC can win its biggest match of the season, 1 p.m. Saturday at International Falls against the Voyageurs, for the Region 13B championship.
The winner advances to the NJCAA Division III national tournament Nov. 9-10 at Rochester.
"My job is to be an optimistic coach," Peterson said, "and I am way more optimistic about our chances to beat them this week than I was last week. It's really in our hands. They're going to score some points against us, that's a given, but they don't have so many weapons that we can't defend them.
"When you play teams like (Rainy River), the general rule in all of sports is play good defense. If we can play good defense a tiny little bit better, then we can beat that team."
The Raiders beat Rainy River 3-1 Sept. 8 at International Falls and lost 3-2 at home Oct. 5. CLC lost to the Voyageurs 3-1 in a playoff to determine the region's No. 1 seed Oct. 19 at Hibbing and 3-1 in the semifinals of the state tournament last weekend at Rochester.
"Rainy River has this thing that when they play us, they play great volleyball," Peterson said. "They have played their best volleyball against us. We have not played our best volleyball against them.
"When I was talking to their coach Monday, she commented about one thing. She said, 'You missed some serves that you usually don't miss,' and I said, 'Yes.' If we don't miss those serves, and make two or three fewer errors, we can win the game."
Peterson said the Voyageurs have two powerful middle hitters, Katie Carlson of Mora and Susie Fosness of Bertha-Hewitt.
"Everyone would pick (Carlson) as the best player in the state," Peterson said. "She's a smart player. She can do what she wants with the ball. We know her strengths, so we will try to defend those first, and hopefully make her do something that's not her strength. (Fosness) is predictable. I think we can defend her better than we have been.
"We know where the ball is going. They set those two 90 percent of the time. They rely on them a lot. That's to our advantage. We know the ball is going to the middle of the court."
The Voyageurs know CLC has multiple weapons. The Raiders feature All-American setter Katie Bell and dynamic hitter Dana Dickinson, both of whom were all-state tournament selections last weekend. Dickinson and Amanda Meyer were members of the all-national tournament team last fall.
Bell leads the Raiders in ace serves per game (.70). Dickinson leads in kills per game (4.27) and digs (4.31). Val Diedrich leads in hitting percentage (.292) and Marie Kern in blocks per game (.81).
"We have a setter who might dump the ball," Peterson said, "and they have to think about Dana, who they can't defend. She's unstoppable. They have to think about our quick middle hitters, who aren't as big as theirs but are quick. I'm thinking they have to think about way more than we do."
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