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Talent, challenging schedule led Tigers back to state tournament

  The Nevis volleyball team didn’t miss a beat in returning to the state Class A tournament.

     Despite graduating all-state hitter Riley Hanson and having Heidi Wormley take over for Steph Hanson as head coach, the Tigers coasted back to state by not dropping a set en route to repeating as Section 5A champs.

     Nevis capped off section play with a dominating 25-19, 25-18, 25-10 win over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the championship match. B-B-E was rated No. 6 in the state Class A poll while the Tigers were rated No. 10. This was the sixth year in a row these two teams battled for the section title with Nevis prevailing in 2009 and the last three seasons.

     “That is the great thing about having a strong program. We graduated a great senior class and a once-in-a-lifetime player in Riley, but we have developed a strong program that is now developing outstanding players,” said Wormley. “We play one game at a time, but the girls have elevated their goals and expectations of themselves and our program to the point where we all believe. They work very hard in season and especially in the offseason to always test and improve their skills. This consistent, balanced and powerful team is a joy to coach.”

     Playing a tough schedule during the regular season has always been the key to preparing the Tigers for the post-season.

     Despite going 2-2-2 at the Class A Showcase, 2-3 at the St. Michael-Albertville tournament and 2-2 at the Moorhead tournament, the Tigers faced some of the best teams in the state. Nevis went 3-3-1 against teams ranked in the latest state polls, 3-6 against Class AAA teams (defeating Hastings, Rogers and Duluth East and losing to Bemidji, Moorhead, Delano, Cambridge, Hutchinson and Osseo) and 4-1 against Class AA schools (defeating Park Rapids, Wadena-Deer Creek and Greenway and losing to East Grand Forks). Nevis also lost to Fillmore Central, defeated Ada-Borup and tied Mayer Lutheran.

     Of those teams, Osseo (No. 4) and Delano (No. 8) are rated in the state Class AAA poll and joined Moorhead at the state tournament while Greenway was rated No. 14 in the Class AA poll. Fillmore Central (No. 1), Mayer Lutheran (No. 13) and Ada-Borup (No. 15) are rated in the state Class A poll with Fillmore Central and Ada-Borup also qualifying for state.

     Playing those tough teams helped the Tigers sweep Pillager, Onamia, Braham and B-B-E in the section tournament and prepared Nevis for another run at bringing home some hardware at state. The Tigers won the consolation title in 2009 and last season and finished second in 2011.

     “Our schedule does not allow us to sit back and get complacent as we play numerous AAA teams and in three of the toughest tournaments in the state,” said Wormley, whose team entered state with a 22-9-2 record. “Six of our losses have come to AAA teams and four of our opponents that beat us are in the state tournament. Playing the best teams is the key. You must always push your limits during the season and play large school teams to play against the best athletes. If you don’t do this, you can’t replicate the game speed that these matches give you and the slower-paced games can hurt you come tournament time.”

     Another key to the Tigers’ success this season has been a balanced attack.

     Senior Megan Norby (283), junior Denia Brown (167), senior Taylor Drury (105), sophomore Hannah Bliss (90) and senior Melissa Stenberg (88) lead the team in kills while Drury (48 aces, 250 points), Norby (68 aces, 216 points), senior Olivia Toft (40 aces, 194 points), Bliss (20 aces, 119 points) and Brown (24 aces, 108 points) lead the Tigers at the service line. Toft has tallied 617 set assists entering the state tournament.

     Defensively, Brown has 21 solo blocks and 60 assists while Drury (42), Bliss (40), Stenberg (25), Norby (18) and Toft (13) have assisted on 138 blocks. Norby (250), senior Savannah Gatewood (140), Toft (129), Drury (114), junior Ruby Vedbraaten (104) and senior Angel Wolf (98) lead Nevis in digs while Norby (375), Gatewood (256), Drury (177), Wolf (144) and Vedbraaten (116) receive the majority of the opponents’ serves.

     “This year’s team is very, very balanced and difficult to play against because we can bring as many as five hitters at a team, not allowing them to just block one player,” said Wormley. “This year’s team has figured out how to all bring their contributions and each set might have a different player that is on fire, so we have become very consistent.”

     That consistency has Wormley counting on another solid showing at state for the Tigers.

     “I expect the girls to play with confidence and poise,” said Wormley. “I told the girls to have fun, play smart, play to the best of their ability and enjoy the journey.”