The perfect team for the perfect time
It was the perfect team at a perfect time for the city of Wadena and the Wadena-Deer Creek schools. The Wolverines volleyball team posted a perfect season when it was needed most for a community recovering from the EF-4 tornado that struck the town on the evening of June 17, 2010.
The Wolverines were led at the helm by longtime head coach Sue Volkmann. Volkmann suffered a direct hit from the tornado when it hit their farm, home and trees, leveling everything, according to Volkmann.
Volkmann and her team were competing in a tournament in Bemidji. Her whole family attended the tournament. However, her husband and youngest daughter, Casey, were planning on staying behind. Fortunately, they attended the tournament as well.
“We were at Bemidji and Tim got a call from some friends that said our farm had been hit by the tornado,” Sue Volkmann said. “We knew storm warnings were out and the kids were on their phones between games. All the kids were texting and telling them all that was going on. There were all kinds of warnings out and the kids were giving play-by-play during the games. We knew the weather was bad.”
During one of their games, Sue’s husband came across the court and told the team. She said the game stopped mid-play and everyone stood around, not knowing what to do. We knew Wadena had gotten hit because one of the kids texted one of our kids saying they were in the basement and their house just left, according to Volkmann. However, their arrival in Wadena was delayed by a storm in Bemidji.
“We were about to leave Bemidji and then the sirens went off because a storm was moving that way,” Volkmann said. “The sheriff came and wouldn’t let anyone leave. We were stuck at the high school for an hour more before we could head out.”
The community quickly rallied to help the Volkmann family. Sue said there were about 100 people already gathered at their farm when they returned. Another thing arrived during the cleanup; the Wadena-Deer Creek volleyball team found out they were the top-ranked team in the state.
“Her kids were out there helping her clean up right away. While they were out there, she got a mailing from the volleyball coaches and they were ranked No. 1,” Activities Director Norm Gallant said. “I said there is only one thing to do Sue and that was win the whole thing and they did. There were nights, we would be in the gym and they would play a decent team and we would be out of there in 45 minutes. They were so good. It was fun.”
The 2010 Wolverines consisted of Class AA Player of the Year Courtney Volkmann, Caitlin Volkmann, Kelsie Crawford, Hope Theisen, Brittney Noon, Sydney Schissel, Avery Jackson, Mandy Perkins, Heather Theisen, Rachael Carlisle, Kaitlin Ditsworth, Rachel Craig, Melissa Moenkedick, Emily Miron and Morgan Lugert.
Rachel Craig said a lot of her teammates were affected by the tornado, which made it feel like it was all happening to them.
“We spent a lot of that summer helping different teammates clean up their houses and doing whatever they needed,” Craig said. “The tornado was happening during a volleyball tournament that we were at and that’s when we found out certain people’s houses were being hit and we were in a tornado warning up there. It was definitely a scary experience and luckily no one was seriously injured.”
Craig said it meant everything to the team seeing the town respond and come back after the tornado.
“I think it gave us a big push to try and do our best. It was an outlet that we had that we didn’t have to focus on all the negativity,” Craig said. “The community had something to look forward to. It was definitely nice to have that support and to be able to focus on something other than all the negativity at that time.”
Craig said the team was looking forward to the season since they had been playing together for several years and were the best of friends.
“We had been looking forward to what was my senior year and were hoping it would work out the way it did,” Craig said. “We had high expectations and with the tornado, there was so much focus on our season, we really put all of our effort into making it the best that we could. Luckily, it paid off for us.”
Sue Volkmann said they were extremely close, and they were best friends. She said they were all working on her farm the day the Breakdown Volleyball book came in the mail.
“We knew we were going to have a pretty decent season. We had everyone back and won consolation the year before,” Volkmann said. “We knew we had a good team coming back and when that came out and had us at No. 1. It said we were probably the No. 1 team in the state for all classes. They were excited and pretty much our volleyball had ended at that point and everyone had to work around the town and the farm. It brought a smile to everyone’s faces to know that was still something that was there and still something normal.”
Volkmann said it was amazing the crowd the team had at the games. She said the town always supported the team, but even more so after the tornado struck the community.
“They needed something to look forward to and to hold on to with their own kids and the town’s kids,” Volkmann said. “It was something really positive and a good thing. Everybody was right on the floor. I am sure it was intimidating for the other team when they came in. There wasn’t a whole lot of room left for their fans.”
The Wolverines posted a 33-0 mark but being undefeated was not the goal of the team, the goal was to return to the Class AA Tournament.
“Our focus was so much on getting back to state. We knew the level of team that we were,” Volkmann said. “We knew we were going to beat most of the teams, and we had a couple of close games, but we basically beat everyone 3-0. We weren’t focused on the undefeated thing; it was more like getting back to the state tournament and doing something when we got down there.”
Craig said it was a different experience since the media was focusing on their every move at the state tournament.
“It maybe put a little more pressure on us, but our main goal was to play the game we knew and do the best that we could,” Craig said. “We had such a great all-around team that year. We did not have any holes on our team, and we all had been playing together for so long, we were able to pull it off. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Craig said it was something she will never forget and that it was a great year in general.
“With the community coming together, being with my friends all the time, playing the game I love,” Craig said. “It would have been very disappointing if we didn’t end the way we did. It couldn’t have been a better ending.”