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Wenzel prepares to set a teammate in Chaska'a victory over Prior Lake Tues., Aug. 27. Photo courtesy of Randal Zoeller
As first impressions go, there is nothing remarkable about the Chaska volleyball team.
To see the players going through their pre-match paces, the uninformed would be hard-pressed to pick out what, if anything, makes this group stand out. They are tall enough, but not towering. They are not diving across the floor making unbelievable saves or pounding the ball with the resounding boom that turns heads.
In fact, on a recent sweltering August night in Chaska’s air-conditioned gym, the Hawks’ opponent, Prior Lake, was the more impressive-looking bunch with its phalanx of long-legged athletes.
But then the match starts and with it comes that “ah-ha” moment when all becomes clear.
The Chaska girls operate with a well-practiced precision, getting to open spots, keeping the ball in play, always looking ahead. Mistakes are forgotten as soon as they happen. Adjustments are made. They talk on the court, but not to excess. A team in the truest sense of the word.
Prior Lake put up a strong fight, but the Hawks turned their game up a notch en route to a four-set victory.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little,” junior outside hitter Lauren Nordvold said. “We know each other so well.”
So well that the Hawks created quite a buzz in the volleyball community over the summer by winning the AAU national club championship for girls 16 and under in Orlando. National titles are typically won by all-star volleyball clubs that get top players from different schools in the area.
To have a championship team with all of the players from the same school — from Minnesota, no less — is practically unheard of.
“A lot of people asked about that. A lot of coaches were saying, ‘They’re all from the same school?’?” sophomore libero Keena Seiffert said. “They were shocked to hear that.”
Said junior setter Makayla Wenzel: “It’s really cool that we all come from one place. It’s very unique.”
Longtime coach Sue Murphy hopes the summer success carries over to the high school season. While there are a few who didn’t play for the national champions, the core of the high school team — Nordvold, Seiffert, Wenzel, Erin Schindler, Elizabeth Hoppe, Lucia Saathoff, Sarah Kelly and Lindsay Snuggerud — has achievement to build upon.
“The thing that sets this team apart is that they already have a good chemistry going,” said Murphy, herself a 1981 Chaska graduate. “They’re all great friends. You don’t have to deal with things off the court.”
With their big national hurdle behind them, the Hawks have set their sights on a goal they all agree is their biggest. Chaska has a strong volleyball tradition, boasting six high school state championships, but they have not been to the state tournament since 2006. That, players agree, must change.
“State,” Nordvold said with emphasis. “It has been a while, but we know we can do it. We have the capability.”
Getting there, Murphy said, will require a few tweaks and minor adjustments to their game.
“We’re trying to develop a little bit of swagger without cockiness,” she said. “They ran a fast offense [over the summer], and we’re trying to speed it up even more. We don’t want the opponent to know who to block and we want to get more 1-on-1 situations.”
Taking an already fast offense and speeding it up takes discipline and timing, two things that come with familiarity. In other words, Chaska provides the perfect situation for an up-tempo game.
“The speed really helps our game,” Nordvold said. “We’re all so close to each other that we know where everybody is on the court at every moment. It’s such a good feeling.”