Visitation seniors Anne Debertin, left, and Kayla Adducci have not lost a conference match since joining the varsity volleyball team as freshmen. The Blazers will be tough to beat again this year. Submitted photo
Visitation seniors Kayla Adducci and Anne Debertin have been starting on the varsity volleyball squad since their freshman year together. They have yet to experience a conference loss.
"And I don't plan to," Adducci said with conviction after practice Tuesday.
That's how dominant the Blazers have been in the Tri-Metro Conference in recent years, ringing up three titles through three undefeated seasons. Visitation has furthered its efforts with recent back-to-back Class 2A, Section 4 championships, earning trips to the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
Head coach Joseph Zimmermann made his Visitation debut along with Adducci and Debertin in 2009. Instead of divulging top-secret training techniques, team strategies or hypnotic methods, he talked about how fortunate he was to inherit a good batch of players.
"I was blessed with some talent. Talent always beats coaching, for sure," Zimmermann said.
The once-again talented Blazers have returned to the court this fall looking to continue their unprecedented conference streak. In the preseason, and with a few new faces, the chemistry is already clicking.
They have reason to be excited about keeping their streak going. The girls are returning most of their stat leaders from last season; Debertin led in both kills and digs, Adducci in assists and three-year starter Elsa Ayotte was second in hitting efficiency.
Libero Maggie Krieger is showing quickness and ball-handling skills. Outside hitter Lauren Debertin, a first-year sophomore and Anne's younger sister, is expected to contribute and help fill holes left by last year's graduating class.
But the Blazers will have their obstacles to overcome. Mary Mullen, a junior and three-year starter, is out for at least two weeks with a stress fracture. Her absence leaves the middle back position open for a few new faces to step up.
While skilled and athletic, the Blazers lack height this season. That's nothing new to Zimmermann, who has coached similar teams in each of the past three years since he took over. He said he has seen them transform it from a physical deficiency into a motivator.
"Every team we play is pretty much taller than us. Every year they know they're one of the shorter clubs out there," Zimmermann said. "It inspires them to play harder. We just have to be more athletic than the other teams, and the kids are able to do that."
That athleticism comes from Visitation's many multisport athletes, and it will have to overcome size again this season. An emphasis on defense, ball control and limiting unforced errors will be key to this year's campaign.
They'll be tested right away.
The Blazers will face Lakeville South and Burnsville before hosting their own tough tournament. They begin conference play against St. Croix Lutheran, one of their tougher opponents and a section foe.
This year's goals were discussed at Tuesday's team meeting. Let's just say they're not lowering their standards.
"Everybody's goal is that we want to make the state tournament again. It's such a privilege to be there," Zimmermann said. "I don't think it's an expectation by any means. They know they have to work hard for it and the competition is going to be tougher this year."