Lakeville North junior Alyssa Goehner will begin play with her Northern Lights club team right after the high school season ends with this weekend’s state tournament.
Right arm cocked, blonde pony-tail trying to keep up, Alyssa Goehner takes two steps forward and explodes, soaring toward the net.
The volleyball is headed downward after a high, arcing set. The defense readies, with liberos crouching low and blockers steeling themselves for the powerful kill to come.
Usually, it doesn't matter. The Lakeville North junior outside hitter blasts away, utilizing her 31-inch vertical leap to hammer down on the ball, which clears the front line of defense and slams into the gym floor. Point scored. The resulting cheers are mixed evenly with oohs and aahs.
This scene is repeated two dozen or so times whenever Lakeville North plays a match. It's the primary reason why the Panthers are 29-1 and seeded No. 1 in Class 3A in the upcoming volleyball state tournament.
It's also why Goehner was the clear choice as the Star Tribune's 2012 Metro Volleyball Player of the Year.
"An amazing player," Panthers coach Walt Weaver said. "She is one of the most powerful attackers in state history."
While her hitting prowess draws the most acclaim, the 5-10 Goehner is something of a volleyball Wunderkind. Defensively, she digs as well as any player in the state. She passes with precision. She is more than capable on the rare occasion she is asked to set.
Her skills have caught the eye of volleyball watchers across the country. In 2011, she was named the National High School Sophomore of the Year by PrepVolleyball.com. Last summer, she led her club volleyball team, Northern Lights, to the AAU National Championship in the 17-and-under division. Her future college, Marquette, offered her a scholarship after her freshman year.
All this about a player who, just four years ago, was trying to decide between basketball and volleyball.
"I played both until seventh grade, but I knew that I loved volleyball better," Goehner said.
Off the court, however, Goehner goes to great lengths to keep her growing reputation in check. It's a constant battle trying to balance her personal goals with the desire to be a typical 17-year-old.
"People around school will say things like 'She's No. 1 in the nation' and things like that. It makes me go 'Arghhh,'" a blushing Goehner said. "It's a compliment, I know, but I never want to be seen as being cocky. I wouldn't have been able to do any of these things if it wasn't for my teammates. So I don't talk about volleyball around school that much."
But she can't stop playing.
Beginning Thursday, she will lead Lakeville North in its quest for a second state championship in three years. The Panthers won the Class 3A title in 2010 and lost in the finals in 2011.
While winning a national championship was the highlight of her volleyball career, Goehner said, a state high school championship is not far behind.
"You can compare the two," she said. "The crowds at both of them are pretty big. Winning the national championship was so amazing, but at the state tournament, you're there with your friends and family and all of the people who support you. That's very important to me, too."
Win or lose, Goehner won't have much time to savor the result. The Northern Lights club season begins Monday.
That's perfectly OK with Goehner. She would rather not spend too much time away from the court.
"When I haven't played for a while, I feel out of shape. I'm always playing," she said. "I love volleyball so much. It's my whole life. I don't have any idea what I'd do without it."