HOUGHTON - Six high school seniors have signed National Letters of Intent to continue their volleyball careers at Michigan Tech under third-year head coach Matt Jennings. The recruiting class includes a pair of six-foot middle blockers in Stephanie Dietrich (Stillwater, Minn.) and Lauren Emmert (Northbrook, Ill.), outside hitters Noelle Eveland (Valparaiso, Ind.) and Annie Raisanen (Cokato, Minn.), and defensive specialists Halie Hart (Salem, Wis.) and Elle Heinonen (Delano, Minn.).
The group collectively won 168 matches and participated in two state finals during the 2013 high school season. Three of them are from the greater Chicagoland area, of which both Jennings and assistant coach Doug Han are natives.
"We are very excited to have this group of future Huskies coming here to study and play volleyball at Michigan Tech," Jennings said. "I'm very thankful for the trust they've put in me, our program, and the university. We are adding a group of proven winners that bring talent, academic excellence, volleyball IQ, and character to the team."
Dietrich, 6-feet, was a two-time all-conference honorable mention selection at Stillwater High School and was named to the 2013 STMA Fall Classic All-Tournament Team. She has been a member of Kokoro Volleyball Club for three years alongside future Huskies teammate Heinonen. Dietrich plans to study mechanical engineering at Tech.
"Stephanie is very quick off the ground and can really jump, touching at least ten feet," said Jennings. "She has a nice point of contact and a fast arm swing, making her a real asset for us offensively. She comes to us well prepared and equipped to contribute, but in my opinion, is not even close to reaching her ceiling."
Emmert, 6-1, was a three-year varsity starter at Glenbrook North High School where she was named the Co-Central Suburban League North Player of the Year in 2012 after hitting a .471 attack percentage with 271 kills and 37 blocks.
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In 2013, the team captain led her team to 30 wins, a regional title and a second straight CSL-North Championship. Emmert plays club for Wildcat Juniors in Evanston, Ill., under former Michigan Tech standout Karen Sonders (formerly Milborn). In her four seasons with the club, Emmert played in one of the country's most well-respected and strongest leagues, the Great Lakes Power League, and on a national stage among the nation's elite.
"Lauren will come in, from a technical standpoint, as one of our most disciplined and sound players on the team," said Jennings. "She plays her position the way it is meant to be played, a direct result of her coachability and work ethic. She has a balanced offensive game that is quick and reliable. She will be an asset for us for four years, probably starting next season."
Eveland comes in with exceptional athletic and academic credentials. The 5-11 outside hitter was named a 2014 National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalist and a 2013 AP Scholar by College Board. She was a three-year starter for Valparaiso High School, leading her team in kills the last two seasons and twice earning all-conference honors. Eveland was a team captain and named first team all-area after she posted 373 kills and led her team to a sectional championship in 2012. She led the conference in total kills (307) and finished fifth in digs (406) during her senior season. Eveland will play her eighth season of club volleyball in 2014, competing against some of the country's best programs in the Chicago area. She has played for Ultimate VBC's top U17 and U18 teams, Kane County Juniors, and will play for Michio VBC this spring.
"Noelle's record in academics and athletics speaks volumes, but its only part of her appeal," said Jennings. "She ties it all together with a confidence and attitude that is rare amongst people her age. She is a true six-rotation outside hitter, who will be a primary passer, an aggressive defender, and a jump server."
Hart, 5-5, participated in three different state championships as an all-around athlete at Westosha Central High School. Her 2013 volleyball team went 45-9 and was state runner-up. She also went to the state meet in pole vaulting on two separate occasions, and was a three-time MVP of her track team. On the court, Hart was twice named the conference's defensive player of the year after tallying a league-best 597 digs in 2013 along with 36 service aces. She was also named to the all-state and state tournament teams and served as the team captain in 2013 during her team's run towards a state championship. Hart played for Sky High Volleyball Club in northwest Chicago under coach Chas Kennedy, the same coach under whom Jennings also played.
"Halie possesses so many of the qualities I look for in a defensive player," said Jennings. "She reinforces the stereotype of the Midwest work ethic and is physically able to perform at a high level. She will make our team a better passing group from day one. Her defense is solid and capable of extending rallies for us on a regular basis."
Heinonen, 5-6, was a four-year letter winner at Delano High School and led her team to a Class AAA Minnesota State Runner-Up finish in 2013. She was a first team all-conference selection in 2013 and was named all-conference honorable mention the previous two seasons. Heinonen also served as a team captain in 2013 and was a three-time team MVP on defense. Heinonen plays club volleyball for Kokoro with Dietrich, where they have participated in the AAU National Championships in Orlando together the past two summers. She is an honor roll student in high school and member of the National Honor Society. Heinonen's brother, Tyler, is a freshman on the hockey team.
"Elle has the making of an elite defender," said Jennings. "Watching her play and command the backcourt, you simply come away with the sense that she's a born leader. She's relentless in her pursuit and poised in her movements. I'll bet that she becomes a fan favorite at the SDC, and I know that she'll be an important part of our team defense going forward."
Raisanen, 5-11, was a four-year starter at Dassel-Cokato High School, where she was an all-state and academic all-state selection in 2013. Raisanen earned all-conference selection in the Wright County Conference three times and served two years as team captain. She set the school record for kills in a season as a junior and surpassed the total as a senior, finishing with 1,200 career kills. Raisanen played club volleyball for Hutchinson Elite VBC. She has four older siblings that graduated from Michigan Tech.
"Annie is as balanced of a young person as you might find," said Jennings. "She's coachable, respectful, humble and hard-working and coming off an impressive senior season that made her more prepared to positively impact our team. She's going to be an important part of any success we have in the future."
Michigan Tech is coming off a 10-20 overall record and 6-12 mark playing in the rugged GLIAC North Division. The Huskies have posted a 22-39 record in two seasons under Jennings.