Gator Volleyball added a new event to its schedule: a tournament at the Midwest Volleyball Warehouse in Burnsville, a Twin Cities suburb, on September 24 and 25 — the Minnesota Class A Showcase.
“I think it’s going to be a great challenge for them to go and be pushed and really have to compete against a high level every match,” Gator Head Volleyball Coach Stacy Dahl said. “… It will be a nice test.”
It’s an invite-only tournament usually for teams that are finishing in the top of their section. The Gators didn’t have a postseason last year due to COVID, but two seasons ago advanced to the section semifinals. The team was supposed to go to this event last year, but it was cancelled.
This event presents an opportunity to face quality programs, Dahl said. She is excited for her team to have this chance.
“I think they’re eager. They can’t wait to go. The kids are really excited because they’ve heard me kind of talk it up,” Coach Dahl said. “And so they want to experience that and just go against some of those tougher teams that make it to the state tournament pretty regularly.”
Coach Dahl will be leading the Gators through not just this tournament, but also another Gator Volleyball season. She talked about her program, including last year’s shortened season, and the program’s players, motto, practice work, strengths, and goals this season.
The Gators opened the season on the road versus the Stephen-Argyle Central Storm on August 31 and open at home versus the Roseau Rams on Tuesday, September 7.
As for last year’s team, it finished a shortened season 8-4 and lost three seniors to graduation, in Alyssa Rinde, Erika Howell, and sisters Emma and Ella Heggedal. Coach Dahl described this season as weird, but appreciated how her team worked through it.
“I was very proud of our girls— how they responded to that. We played with our quarantines… We made it work, I think, the whole time,” Coach Dahl said, “and that was important because the goal was to play. Kids were stressed enough with the changes just in the school year and things like that. So it was really awesome to at least have a season and have something to work toward.”
It was difficult to have the season shut down early and not be able to compete in a postseason. It was especially tough to see this happen for the team’s four seniors— players that Dahl said had been with the program forever, Dahl said. It ended for them with a 3-0 home win over the Freeze.
As for this year’s Gator program, it has approximately 39 players in seventh to twelfth grade. Besides Dahl, coaches Ashley Lambert (JV), Jessica Stender (C-team), Katie Faken (Junior High), and Chelsey Hamness (Junior High) lead these players.
This year’s team features three seniors players, in Aulona Jasiqi, Greta Lee, and Jacey Wojchowski.
“(They’re) great role players. They each really contribute and do their job well” Coach Dahl said of her seniors. “(They’re) very positive players and, yeah, have a good team concept.”
They also have numerous returning underclassman with past varsity time, including Cassie Dahl, Kinsley Hanson, Riley Gust, Jade Reese, and Hannah Bergsnev. New to the varsity level, Keyasha Housker, Honna Westlund, and Kenzie Dahl complete the 11-player Gator varsity roster.
“We have really solid players. I feel like there’s just a nice balance of different skills, balance of personalities,” Dahl said. “So yeah, I think they mesh well, and it’s been super fun.”
This year’s team is going with the motto: “Bring It.”
“You bring your best self every time you’re in practice,” Coach Dahl said. “Every time you compete, you’re bringing it. You have to bring what you contribute to the team to make us successful.”
This motto also applies to the team’s opponents.
“We want our opponent to bring it, give us your best shot, because we want to make sure that we stay competitive, we stay fearless, and we want to beat them at their best,” Coach Dahl said. “That I think would even drive our hunger even more when we have people playing high and then we can come in and do our thing. And I think that’s pretty powerful.”
Coach Dahl sees this motto as fitting for a team that features much experience and an overall attitude towards changing with the game.
“They’re running a really fast offense. Hitters more so now, they’ve started working on different shots, different… types of routes that they’re running,” Coach Dahl said. “And, we’ve had some players wanting to do that in the past. We’ve never had a whole team wanting to do that.”
This group is challenging themselves to try these different things beyond just practice.
“It’s exciting to see them attempting and executing too because they’re doing it in game play. So, it’s not just like we’re practicing that. They’re already trying to do it when we’re competing,” Coach Dahl said. “And so that’s going to be huge for them to just continually raise the bar for themselves individually and as a team and just see what can happen.”
To see the complete story, read the September 1 issue of The Tribune in print or online.