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First day of Mayer Lutheran volleyball practice is 'like Christmas morning'

By Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune, 08/12/19, 5:57PM CDT


The Class 1A powerhouse has high standards, even curfews, but its talented players — many who play together in the offseason — wouldn’t have it any other way.

Olivia Tjernagel served the ball during the first day of volleyball practice Monday at Mayer Lutheran High School. Photo: Jerry Holt • Jerry.holt@startribune.com

Twenty-five seasons in, 12 state tournaments and two state titles behind her, yet Mayer Lutheran volleyball coach Joelle Grimsley still feels the buzz on the first day of practice.

“It’s like Christmas morning,” Grimsley said while putting 36 girls in the Crusaders program through their first official tryout Monday morning. “It’s special, getting all of these girls back together.”

While Mayer Lutheran has been a small-school volleyball power for most of Grimsley’s tenure, the last three years have been peak years for the Crusaders. They won back-to-back Class 1A state championships in 2016 and 2017 and were consolation champs a year ago.

Graduating just one player and with two elite-level middle hitters in seniors Olivia Tjernagel and Claudia Stahlke, Mayer Lutheran has high expectations once again. It’s the standard the program has set and the players wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There’s some pretty strict rules here, like curfews,” Tjernagel whispered with a grin. “But that’s good. It’s good for a team.”

Tjernagel trained in Florida with Team USA over the summer, but said there’s nothing quite as special as getting back together with your high school teammates. Grimsley worked with many of the players three days a week during summer workouts, but made a point of reminding them that the prep season wasn’t far off.

“She’d go ‘How many days to tryouts?’ and I’d say ‘Coach, I don’t keep count,’ ” Tjernagel said. “And she’d say ‘I do. It’s important.’ And it is important. It’s just so much fun being back here again.”

A few of the players went their separate ways in the offseason. The 6-2 Stahlke, whose strong junior season elevated her profile in the eyes of recruiters, trained with Vital Volleyball. She said Monday was her first time back with her high school teammates since last November.

But most of them played for the club program run out of Mayer Lutheran. Along with thrice-weekly workouts, it wasn’t as if they hadn’t been on the court together. It didn’t take long for them to switch back into high school mode.

“We were doing a drill and we all started cheering for each other,” junior defensive specialist Morgan Chmielewski said. “It just echoed in the gym and it brought back so many memories. It was so cool.”

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