BARAGA - Peggy Reinsch's Baraga High School volleyball team is always a tough out, but the longtime coach doesn't want to get out anymore.
"We're looking to take that next step," she said. "I've wanted to foster not only the skills, but the love for the game. I feel like I've had a lot of success, but it's been a long time since we've picked up that district title."
Reinsch openly admits the local measuring bar for local Class D volleyball is Lake Linden-Hubbell, so it's fitting the Vikings start their conference season tonight - at home - against the defending district champion Lakes.
"We're willingly embracing the challenge," she said. "I think we have a really strong chance of competing against Lake Linden.
"Fundamentally, they're going to pass well, and we have to be willing to go all out for five games to beat them."
The Vikings may have the skill to challenge the Lakes, with six seniors and eight juniors, but Reinsch is still looking for the killer instinct her squad had at times last season from now-graduated players like Rebecca Larson and Brittany Nieskes.
"I'm looking to fill those big shoes in terms of bringing some toughness and attitude," she said. "I think it's building and I think it's there."
Reinsch will rely on senior setter Kelly Bedner to set up a talented group of hitters, including seniors Winter and Mackenzie Keefer (unrelated), senior power arm Melissa Putala and junior middle and outside hitter Gabby Mayo.
Senior Taylor Swanson will lock down the right side while serving as a back-up setter, and she's also led the team in experimenting with a jump serve. Senior Ellie Morin will run the middle and junior Shayla Mayo and Tessa Gilbertson will provide front-row depth. Juniors Terra Fish, Kellie Massie and Donna Pawlowski will also play a variety of roles off the bench.
Junior Sonja Welch, a "phenomenal passer" according to Reinsch, will be a defensive specialist commanding the back row. Junior Jackie Wadaga is currently rehabbing from knee surgery.
The chemistry of the girls is still a work in progress since practices started Aug. 14, but Reinsch believes her team is ready. There's been no better motivating factor than playing the Lakes tonight.
"We've been focusing on mental focus and communication, but being emotional a little bit, too," she said. "We're going to give (LL-H) everything we have. We know this is a big game."