Aukes counting on veterans to spark success
The attitude of the returning varsity players during summer practice has Molly Aukes expecting a successful season from the Park Rapids volleyball team.
Aukes originally set up practices for two days each week during the summer. One more day was added to that practice schedule when the players asked for three practices a week.
That commitment to the program, plus the return of a veteran lineup, has Aukes looking forward to a winning season.
"The girls played quite a bit this summer. They wanted to play and be in the gym," said Aukes. "The girls are excited about the season. They have set some high goals for this team."
The Panthers return eight letterwinners from last year's team that finished with a 9-17 overall record. Leading the way this season are seniors Hailey Lundin, Jenny Palm, Taylor Smythe, Leeza Tostenson, Shelby Weckwerth and Hannah Wolff; junior Ashley Domino; and sophomore Olivia Vaadeland.
Wolff returns at middle hitter after receiving Mid-State Conference honors last season. Wolff led the team with 126 attack kills and 45 blocks. Wolff also put 200 of 250 serves in play with 24 aces and 114 points. Wolff also had 56 digs, 17 solo blocks and 28 assisted blocks in 82 games.
Lundin, another outside hitter, earned all-conference honorable mention honors after leading the team with 160 service points, 64 ace serves and 243 digs. Lundin was also second on the team with 117 attack kills and 285 serves received while finishing third with 25 assisted blocks. Lundin put 244 of 301 serves in play and had eight set assists in 82 games.
Tostenson, an outside hitter, played 82 games and was third on the team with 64 attack kills, 19 set assists and 239 serves received. Tostenson put 153 of 177 serves in play with 16 aces and 85 points and had 123 digs.
Weckwerth, a defensive specialist, played in 76 games and tied for the team lead by putting 92 percent of her serves in play (111 for 121) and led the team with 343 serves received. Weckwerth finished second on the team with 215 digs, served five aces and 50 points, and had 13 attack kills.
Palm, a right-side hitter, played 56 games. Palm put 106 of 123 serves in play with 13 aces and 66 points; received 113 serves; had five set assists; tallied seven attack kills; and had 102 digs.
Smythe, a setter, saw action in 63 games and finished second with 90 set assists and third in serving percentage at 90 percent (117 for 130). Smythe served 14 aces and 63 points and had 39 digs.
Domino, a right-side hitter, played in 47 games and had 16 attack kills, 15 assisted blocks, 10 set assists and 17 digs. Domino put 8 of 10 serves in play with one ace and three points.
Vaadeland, a middle hitter, played in 82 games and was second on the team with 33 assisted blocks and fourth in attack kills with 61. Vaadeland also put 16 of 19 serves in play with three aces and 13 points and had 27 digs.
Eighth grader Megan Norby, an outside hitter who transferred from Windom, will give the Panthers another weapon this season.
Providing depth on the varsity this season will be seniors Shannon Taylor (a defensive specialist) and Brie Warne (an outside hitter) and junior Anna Grimes (a middle hitter).
The one key spot to replace is the setter spot held by Maria Goetz last season. Goetz led the Panthers with 297 set assists, was second with 114 service points, and was third with 152 digs and 17 ace serves. Palm and Smythe will fill that role this season.
Starting the season on junior varsity will be Grimes and fellow juniors Amanda Lymburner, Marissa Rittgers and Lizzy Vaudrin; sophomores Katie Just, Shelby Pierce, Hannah Fischer and Erica Jerger; and freshman Grace Bateman. The C squad will feature sophomores Danielle Hill, Tina Niemela, Brandy Parson and Taylor Yliniemi; and freshmen Amber Booge, Emily Grimes, Katelyn Hilmanowski, Sarah McBurney, Tiana Martin, Tonya Melott, Kaitlin Olson, Brighton Robbins, Raven Rock, Sarah Schultz, Ashley Thelen, Alana Young and Katelyn Zaske.
With a veteran team returning, Aukes is looking for the Panthers to improve on their 1-4 record in the conference and get past the first round of the Section 8AA playoffs.
"We have a lot of experience back with five starters returning and a lot of players who played part time. The girls work well together and have good team chemistry," said Aukes, who will be assisted by Marion Goeden and Jackie Griffin. "We're looking to strengthen our blocking and defense and we have to be able to consistently pass the ball. I see a lot of potential from this group. If we can stay consistent, I think we can compete with anybody."