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Tigers' mission is to return to state championship match

Nevis surprised some people by reaching the state Class A championship volleyball match last season.

The Tigers won't surprise anyone if they return to the state championship match this fall.

The majority of the players return from a team that went 6-0 to win the Northland Conference title and 25-10 overall, losing to Bethlehem Academy in the state title match. Those veterans are looking to send the Tigers to the state tournament for the third time in school history.

"The girls are pretty focused on having a fun season. They don't think much about the exterior influences and expectations. They expect a lot out of themselves to start with and that's why they have done as well as they have," said Nevis head coach Stephanie Hanson. "Our expectations as a team are to continue to improve on the court and have continued growth in the knowledge of being excellent and getting to understand what it takes to be at the top in the state."

Returning to lead Nevis will be seniors Riley Hanson, Kate Dierkhising, Katie Becker and Amanda Hass; juniors Megan Norby, Olivia Toft, Savannah Gatewood and Melissa Stenberg; sophomore Denia Brown; and freshman Hannah Bliss. Hanson, Norby, Toft and Becker were all-conference players last season while Gatewood earned all-conference honorable mention honors.

Hanson, a middle hitter who has chosen to play volleyball at Concordia College of St. Paul next season, was an all-state player who led the Tigers with 630 kills, 107 ace serves, 37 solo blocks, 306 digs and 355 serve receives.

Norby, another middle hitter, was second on the team with 293 kills, 74 ace serves, 13 solo blocks, 244 digs and 342 serve receives.

Toft returns as the starting setter after recording 749 set assists last season with 64 ace serves, 119 digs and 25 kills.

Becker returns as an outside hitter after tallying 71 kills, 28 ace serves, 163 digs and 218 serve receives.

Dierkhising had 37 ace serves and 15 digs as an outside hitter while Gatewood tallied 96 digs as a libero.

Also returning with varsity experience are Hass as a defensive specialist, Stenberg as a middle hitter, Brown as a middle hitter and Bliss as a middle hitter.

"We have really had to key in on everybody's role and the importance of it. There is no relying on key players or sitting back for someone else to do the job. What's so special about this team is every player will be playing and taking an avid role, whether it's passing, serving, blocking, hitting or defense," said Hanson, who will be assisted by Heidi Wormley. "We have great talent this year all around and I'm hoping to develop that attitude in which everybody is needed to be the best we can be and to do what we did last year or one step better."

Entering the season, the Tigers are ranked No. 3 among Class A teams according to Breakdown magazine, trailing only Bethlehem Academy and Wabasha-Kellogg. Playing a tough regular-season schedule - which includes matches against Moorhead, Wadena-Deer Creek, Bemidji and Osseo as well as tournaments at Bethel University, St. Michael-Albertville and Moorhead - should prepare the Tigers to make another run at winning a state title.

"This is one of the best teams I've ever coached. It will be an exciting season. The keys to fulfilling our expectations will be staying healthy and staying together mentally and physically as a team," said Hanson. "We have a very tough competitive schedule. It's very important to have competitive matches if you want to play at a state-caliber level. It gets the team ready for the high level of play during the playoffs and that's when it counts. In the end you have to be ready to play at the top of your game and mentally be ready for pressure situations and stay confident as a team so you expect to find a way to win."