BARAGA - As her captains go, so follows the rest of Baraga coach Peggy Reinsch's volleyball team.
In trying to mix a group of six seniors and eight juniors early in the season, it has been up to senior outside hitter Rebecca Larson and setter Kelly Bedner to get everyone on the same page.
And Reinsch feels pretty good about their chances moving forward.
Baraga’s Brittany Nieskes goes for a dig in a 2011 home match. Nieskes returns to her right-side hitter spot for her senior season. (Gazette file photo)
L’Anse’s Rebecca Hulkonen receives serve during the 2011 Class C?district tournament as libero Amanda Dufek looks on. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
"Communication for us is huge," Reinsch said. "And we are still working it out. Right now it is falling to the two captains, Rebecca Larson and Kelly Bedner. We are counting on their leadership to guide us."
Bedner directs the offense from a 5-1 formation, and Reinsch said she is secure relying on her match in and match out to put her teammates in a position to succeed on offense.
"Kelly does a great job, she has loads of hustle in her," she said. "She understands the different patterns that we are trying to run and she is really starting to come on with more inventive sets."
Bedner has been given a wealth of options where to deliver the ball.
She has the senior standbys, the consistent, reliable threat of Larson and Brittany Nieskes at outside and right side, respectively. Further, she is often counting on working a 1-2 with either of the senior outside hitters, as those are Reinsch's best passers on the team.
"They are solid all-around players," Reinsch said of Larson and Nieskes. "Brittany is the quickest person on the team. She chases down everything.
"So when they struggle a little bit, we pay."
In the middle, it will be a pair of junior twins for Baraga, MacKenzie and Winter Keefer.
They will anchor a block Reinsch expects will be the best her team has put together in years.
"They are both good jumpers and can serve as an impressive block," she said. "In fact, we have a lot of good jumpers on this team. It will be the best block we have had around here in several seasons, I hope."
And then there is the wild card - senior Shannon Fish.
A basketball and track athlete, Fish is taking her school-record high jump skills to the volleyball net for the first time ever in high school. If she can pick up the subtle aspects of the game, her physical abilities suggest she could be a dominant player.
And Reinsch called her a "sponge" for learning.
"Oh man, she just soaks everything up," Reinsch said. "And she can jump so high. We are really excited about her."
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As for rivals L'Anse, the Purple Hornets will have to adjust on the fly quickly this season to losing former head coach Anna Bradfish to a teaching position in another district.
Thankfully, it shouldn't take the team too long to get reacquainted with its new skipper.
Jen Wilson, who coached the junior varsity team the past three seasons, has taken over at the head of the L'Anse program and has coach every single varsity member before at the JV level.
"I would say that experience with them has definitely helped out," Wilson said. "They are all in the same positions that I taught them at the JV level and I know their personalities. Hopefully it will be an easy transition."
While Wilson will coach her first match with the team today, hosting Ontonagon, she said the signs were encouraging in watching the Hornets take Lake Linden-Hubbell to five sets before falling 15-13 in the final game earlier this year.
"I think that match helped set the tone that we can compete with the top teams in our area," Wilson said. "LL-H is a local power, and we were just a few plays away from beating them."
For Wilson, she expects the team's success to start from the middle.
Junior Val Rajala will lead the block and often the attack from her middle hitter position.
"She is just a very strong player and a hard worker," Wilson said. "In the (West Iron County) tournament she really impressed me with her overall play."
Becca Hulkonen, a senior, will take the lead at outside hitter and Shantell Ekdahl will receive the starting spot on the right side. Senior Heather McCarthy will set for the offense.
"It would be really nice to see everybody play a role in the wins," Wilson said. "Be it cheering on the bench or digs from the back row and that everyone is flowing. If everyone does their job, we should have a successful season."