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Tegan LaBerge and her teammates on the Northern Lights 18-1 Club Volleyball Team were far from home, competing in the prestigious Pordenone memorial tournament in Italy during the last week of March.
Midway through a tough semifinal match against a team from Slovenia, they were energized to hear “U-S-A, U-S-A” coming from the stands.
“There was an American soccer team of some boys younger than us that were staying in our hotel,” said LaBerge, a middle blocker from Maple Grove. “It was raining and their game was canceled. So they came to our game and started cheering for us. It gave us chills.”
Sufficiently motivated, Northern Lights went on to win the tournament, becoming the first American women’s team to take the title.
It was just another in a long string of victories for what can arguably be called the most successful club volleyball team in Minnesota history.
The team is led by some of the biggest names in high school volleyball: reigning Metro Player of the Year Alyssa Goehner of Lakeville North and future University of Minnesota players Sarah Wilhite of Eden Prairie, Hannah and Paige Tapp of Stewartville and Samantha Seliger Swenson of Hopkins.
The team won the AAU National Championship last year and is undefeated this year. It won two national tournaments before its trip to Italy.
“It’s unreal to grasp,” said Seliger Swenson, a junior setter who competed for Team USA in the World Championships last summer. “Some of the things this team has done are pretty incredible. I don’t think it’s hit us yet.”
For LaBerge, playing for the Northern Lights team has been a dream come true. She’s one of four new players on the team this year. The others are Katherine Hawkins of Blaine, Nora Reed of Hopkins and Lauren Houg of Wayzata.
LaBerge said the biggest surprise to her was the group’s teamwork and camaraderie.
“These are some ridiculously talented players yet they cooperate so well,” she said. “I’ve been on teams with great players before, but great players that don’t work together aren’t a great team. This is a great team. I’m humbled to be a member.”
Northern Lights has two more tournaments, an AAU qualifier in late April and an AAU Super Regional in mid-May, before leaving for Orlando in June with a chance to win another national title.
“We’re not done yet,” LaBerge said. “We still want to win the national championship.
Jim Paulsen • 612-673-7737