Senior Olivia Graham, at the net, is a leader on the Andover volleyball team, which uses a team-first and star-less approach. Photo by Richard Sennott • email@example.com
As the last of three sisters to play volleyball for Andover, Marissa McNallan knew making varsity came with a sweet reward.
Each year older sisters Jenna and Danielle were selected, either mom bought them a cake or grandma baked one of her special raspberry pies. Marissa, a senior, is requesting a pie this year.
A hunger for success on the court helped Andover, which opened in 2002, waste little time establishing itself as a volleyball power. The Huskies first reached the Class 3A state tournament in 2004 and have made six return trips.
The Huskies have yet to win a title -- they took second in 2007 -- but no large-school program reached St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center more often during that span. The continuity spawned "Decade of Excellence" car window decals.
"I think for a new school it was a decade of excellence," Huskies coach Connie Huberty said.
Expectations remain high as the program begins its second decade. The Huskies appeared in the past five consecutive state tournaments, and current players know what's at stake.
"We definitely don't want to be the group to break that streak," McNallan said. "All of our fans around school expect us to go."
Added senior Laura Peterson: "We're given high standards, especially from our peers. It puts pressure on us but it makes us push harder to achieve our goals."
Huberty laughed as she recounted a senior's farewell speech from last spring.
"He said something to the effect of, 'Thumbs up to the volleyball team because I got out of school for two days in November for four years in a row. We all know we can count on the volleyball team,'" Huberty said.
McNallan, Peterson and fellow senior Olivia Graham recalled getting out of school to watch Andover play at state. They would marvel at players such as Megan Carlson and Lauren Cipperly and dream about one day taking their place on a big stage.
Graham and Peterson started their high school careers on the right path, helping Andover's ninth-grade A team go undefeated for the first time. McNallan played on the junior varsity that season but remained part of a strong class of 2013.
All three reached varsity last season, helping Andover to a third-place finish at the state tournament and cementing their place in the program's stellar first decade.
The Huskies could find a sixth consecutive state tournament appearance the most difficult yet. Graduation claimed Karlie Hauer, now with the Gophers. And strong middle hitter McKensey Miller moved to Wisconsin.
Though lacking size and star power, the Huskies are not backing away from their tradition. Huberty praised the team's defense and determination.
"I've got some massively competitive girls,'' Huberty said. "They remind me a lot of the team from 2004, where I did a lot of back-row subbing. We do have girls that can, but we don't have the number of kids or the experience we've had in the past."
The senior class received some advice from Hauer last season.
"She just reminded us that it takes work to get to state and we shouldn't just expect it," Peterson said. "We don't have any Karlie Hauers, but if we work together, we can push through."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574