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Bigger than a state title

Who had any idea that a Class AA state volleyball championship could mean so much to a community?

The honor of winning a state title is enough for most communities but what happened in St. Paul last week transcended that honor. It showed the whole state what kind of kids this area turns out.

When the 2009 season was over the Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines had a state consolation title and a very bright future. They were losing only one of their senior starters to graduation.

They were polishing their skills in Bemidji at a Junior Olympics volleyball tournament on June 17 when a calamity occurred. Head Coach Sue Volkmann recalled her players text-messaging their friends in Wadena that day about the weather. Just after 5 p.m. the flow correspondence stopped.

When the team returned home they found the damage left by twisters that had hit the Wadena-Deer Creek-Bluffton area. It was very bad. The Volkmann farm northwest of Bluffton was in a shambles along with the WDC High School. They had returned to a disaster area.

The players responded the way Volkmann knew they would -- they got busy. Volleyball was put on the back burner. It was not just the players that helped the Volkmanns, their families joined them.

The volleyball team members were clearing debris at the Volkmann farm a few days after the tornadoes hit when word arrived that they were ranked No. 1 in the Class AA state volleyball ranks by The Breakdown. That ranking scored a bullseye in the morale department.

The Wolverines had a gym by the time the season started but they lacked bleacher seating so chairs were brought in for the fans. It scarcely mattered. During the season they dropped only two sets and won three big tournaments. They went into the Class AA section playoffs ranked No. 2 in the state and just kept winning and winning.

Their fan base kept growing as they reached for the state and by the time they reached St. Paul they were the darlings of the tournament.

As a player, Volkmann was a member of two state tournament basketball teams so she has been close to where her players are now -- floating free after achieving a great team goal. There are other sports out there needing the athletic talents of these players, but Volkmann also wants her players to savor their accomplishment.

Keeping the school name in the public eye this fall also stands to do quite a bit for Wadena. The tornado made Wadena one of the best-known cities in Minnesota. Winning a state volleyball title in such impressive fashion keeps it there. When the state legislature convenes in January the issue of how much assistance Wadena receives in rebuilding its facilities will again be addressed. Finding the money to help in rebuilding an attractive new community wellness center, a new hockey arena and putting up an indoor pool could all hinge on the impression Wadena has made on the public. Hard work, dedication and loyalty are strong cards to play.

There are some personal benefits ahead for the members of the WDC team. Volkmann may have had only two daughters playing varsity volleyball this fall, but in another sense, she has a team full of daughters. Some of her charges will be graduating in the spring and moving on to other challenges. Those who will be returning will be taking on roles of greater leadership. The knowledge that the entire volleyball program will be lifted by the 2010 season will be this team's way of touching the future.

If Volkmann is certain of anything it is that the five girls who are graduating off her team in June -- Rachel Carlisle, Mandy Perkins, Kelsi Crawford, Courtney Volkmann and Rachel Craig -- are going to go right on accomplishing big things in life. They have seen how hard work pays off, they have achieved their goals, they have made it.