A long road that could lead to a championship
Sue Volkmann and her coaches knew last November that their Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team was going to be one of the best in the state this fall.
The Wolverines had reached the state tournament two years in a row and they had a veteran team coming back. The Class AA state consolation trophy they had earned in the 2009 tournament in St. Paul was just a harbinger of the success they expected in 2010.
Those dreams were jolted on June 17 when a tornado roared over Tim and Sue Volkmann's farm northwest of Bluffton. If that was not bad enough, a second tornado went through Wadena 45 minutes later and destroyed Wadena-Deer Creek High School.
Within an hour, the Volkmanns had lost their home and the Wolverines had lost their home gym.
The Volkmann girls went right to work helping their parents clear debris on their farm. Among the many other friends and neighbors were members of the Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team.
"Volleyball came to an end," Volkmann said. "You find out real fast what's important in life. They knew what they needed to do and they did it."
But even as the team helped the Volkmanns pick up the pieces, a piece of very good news was on the way to pick them up.
With their summer volleyball plans in limbo, the WDC team was named the top Class AA team in the state by Breakdown magazine. The news could not have come at a better time.
Two months later, the team started its high school season with their lofty goals intact. The competition has taken the lumps this season as the Wolverines have gone 26-0 and won three big tournaments in Sauk Rapids, Litchfield and Alexandria. They entered this week's post-season play ranked second in the state by the Coaches Association.
The chemistry of the group has been a big reason for their success, according to Volkmann. They have been playing varsity volleyball together for three years and the sport has united them at a critical time.
Home games this season have been played at Wadena Elementary. Work on a new high school will not begin until spring 2011.
The elementary gymnasium did not have bleachers for most of the season but it has a great atmosphere now. The fans can sit close to the players and court. The blue bleachers and the bold yellow walls mark the gym as "Wolverine Country" in capital letters.
"I think it's a really good atmosphere and we have a lot of fans all the time and it's really great," senior hitter Rachel Craig said.
Volkmann is especially pleased with the defense her team has played. Senior Mandy Perkins is backed up by junior Avery Jackson, sophomore Caitlin Volkmann and freshman Hope Theisen.
"We know the other person good enough so that we know where they are going to go and we know if they are going to be there," Perkins said.
Courtney Volkmann is an all-state setter and a dynamic server as well as a great leader on the court. Like her teammates, Volkmann is enjoying the season immensely.
"It's really exciting," Volkmann said. "It's been a fun season."
Volkmann sees her team's biggest challenges in the section coming from Perham and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton. Perham is a rival in the south half of the section. Volkmann considers the DGF to be the best team the Wolverines have seen this season.
Brittney Noon has been the team's kill leader in most games this season but Rachael Carlisle and Kelsi Crawford have also contributed kills.
Rachel Craig and Emily Miron are middle hitters that supply the Wolverines with great blocking defense at the net along with a plenty of kills.
Crawford rates WDC's defense as "amazing" but is equally high on their offense.
"I think we have so many options on offense that it is hard for them to keep track," Crawford said.
It must all come together now for the Wolverines to return to the Xcel Center in St. Paul and join Class AA's Final Eight.
"I think our next goal is to win the state championship," Carlisle said. "I think that has been our goal since we started playing together. I know were capable, if we put our minds to it and we play our best game I think we've got a pretty good chance."