LAKE LINDEN - After reaching last year's Class D regional volleyball final, and with eight seniors returning this year, the Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes are expecting big things again in the Mountain Lakes Conference and beyond in 2012.
"Between the experience coming back and the hitters, and the height and positive mentality, it could be a good year," head coach Karen Keranen said. "I really like this year's team. They gel very well."
Keranen senses greater group leadership this year as opposed to clear-cut individual leaders, and the 15-member team is particularly strong up front with senior middle hitters Mandy Perreault (2011 MLC MVP) and Brittni Kisul, and junior strongside hitter Ciara Larson.
Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Ciara Larson goes on the attack during a 2011 home match against Houghton as senior teammate Morgan Gast covers the block. LL-H returns eight seniors for the 2012 season, in which it defends district and conference championships. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Those three combined for 60 kills in 10 sets during the Lakes' third straight West Iron County Invitational championship over the weekend.
"I am very excited about them," Keranen said. "We have strong middle hitters and strength from the outside."
And the Lakes may be even tougher at the net this year from a defensive standpoint, with height contributing to an improved block.
"That's a first for Lake Linden, blocking from the outside as well as the middle," Keranen said.
In addition to Perreault, Kisul and Larson, LL-H will look for hitting contributions from senior Kayla Goodell and juniors Abby McConnen, Morgan Codere and Ashley Nukkula.
The Lakes lost setter Alyssa Rickard to graduation, so the experience level there isn't quite the same, but Keranen is still pleased with the talent and progress from senior Annelise Polkinghorn (30 assists in WIC), sophomore Sarah Audette (17 assists) and senior Jaimie Middleton (10 assists).
"I have the hitters, we just need to get the ball to them," said Keranen, who hopes to increase the tempo a bit this year.
Also contributing to the Lakes' passing game and defensive efforts in particular will be seniors Morgan Gast, Brooke Corrigan and Chelsea Koepel, and juniors Katie Heikkinen and starting libero Erin Gast.
Coming off last weekend's WIC tourney win, the Lakes open the regular season tonight at L'Anse. They will then host Baraga, Hancock and Houghton on Aug. 28, 30 and Sept. 4, respectively.