HANCOCK - New Finlandia volleyball coach Kristan Schuster is trying to build the Lions around a core of players with collegiate experience and locally grown newcomers.
After several years piloting the Hancock Central High School program, Schuster returns to Finlandia, a program she helped kickstart in 2000.
"The biggest thing is figuring out who's got what strengths and weaknesses and developing a starting lineup," said Schuster, who was hired in February.
Left photo, Katelyn Anderson (13)?of Hancock and right photo, Molly Monette of Lake Linden-Hubbell, are newcomers to the Finlandia volleyball program in 2013 under new coach Kristan Schuster.
"I really look for consistency and control of the ball. Before we add a lot of fancy plays and power or anything like that to it, I want to make sure we have a solid base."
Five players on the 2013 roster have Finlandia experience as the Lions begin the season Friday and Saturday in a tournament at Beloit (Wis.) College.
In the middle, the Lions feature returners Augustine Brutus and Emma Cole. Cole, at 6-foot-1, is the tallest player on the roster by a large margin, but that may not always be what it seems. Brutus, a junior from Port St. Lucie, Fla., can actually touch 9-foot-8 with her leap despite being 5-foot-9.
"I don't think we're necessarily so small. I think most of those girls that are shorter play big," Schuster said.
Joining them will be several outside hitters who have starred either at Finlandia or in the local prep ranks. Molly Monette was a standout at Lake Linden-Hubbell and played a year at Western Wisconsin Technical College before coming back to the Copper Country. Another first-class athlete, she touches well over 9 feet and can make a significant contribution.
"She's got incredible jumping ability and has worked her tail off this summer to come in great shape," Schuster said.
Nicole Parker of L'Anse returns for a junior season and provides leadership and all-around proficiency.
Among the newcomers are a few that Schuster is very familiar with from Hancock: Katelyn Anderson and Brook Harter.
Harter and Lake Linden native Katie Miller will make their primary contribution on the right side, while Anderson is one of a couple Lions Schuster will be looking to answer a special call at setter.
She, Hancock sophomore Amanda Gustafso and Petoskey freshman Breanna Merriam are among those learning on the job.
"They're picking up on it quickly. There's so much to learn in such as short amount of time and they're doing a nice job," Schuster said.
The libero is also new, though Schuster appears to be happy with Dominique Tremblay of Rudyard there.
Finlandia faces a rigorous slate, with tournaments practically every weekend between Labor Day and late October culminating in their first chance at postseason play in the Great South Athletic Conference tourney in Salem, N.C. in November.
Finlandia has five home matches, with the first scheduled Sept. 11 against Northland College.
"Right now, they're jelling really well together and the one thing I'm really impressed with is their eagerness to learn and put it to work right away," Schuster said.
"I'm excited to be back at Finlandia. I love the atmosphere, I feel like one big happy family over there and everybody's real supportive of each other."