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Consistency will be key to success for Braves

Senior outside hitter Leah Schwartz will be counted on to lead the Menahga volleyball team this season. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Isaiah Hahn can't emphasize enough how much ball control will dictate the success of the Menahga volleyball team this fall.

"Our team's biggest emphasis this year, as in past years, is ball control. Ball control, ball control, ball control," said Hahn. "We really need to be consistent in this area to reach our goals as a team. Everything that we do starts on defense, especially when it comes to serve-receive defense and overall ball control."

The Braves return five letterwinners who played key roles on last year's team. That group features senior outside hitter Leah Schwartz, junior outside hitter Aimee Lake, junior setter Madi Marjamaa, junior middle hitter Olivia Yliniemi and sophomore right-side hitter Annie Lake.

"These girls will need to be big leaders for our young team this year, both on and off the court," said Hahn.

Schwartz led the team with 163 kills while adding 175 digs and 13 ace serves in non-tournament matches last season. Aimee Lake was second in kills with 98 and in service aces with 18 while adding 127 digs. Yliniemi was third in kills with 81 and was second with 10 ace blocks. Marjamaa tallied 386 set assists and 22 ace serves to lead the Braves while adding 83 digs and 27 kills. Annie Lake had 16 kills and six ace blocks.

Looking to fill in for last year's senior crew of libero Alayna Lake (who led the team with 271 digs and compiled 1,080 digs during her career), middle hitter Lindsay Hendrickson (who had 80 kills and 16 ace blocks), defensive specialist Mackenzie Kako (who had 77 digs) and right-side hitter Sam Sabin (who had 13 kills) will be senior right-side hitter Hailey Heegard, junior hitter Cierra Ahlf, sophomore right-side hitter Jessica Pietila, sophomore outside hitter Tara Hendrickson and sophomore libero Rena Pinoniemi.

Starting the season on the junior varsity will be juniors Jamie Erno (outside hitter), Megan Hendrickson (middle hitter), Kaitlyn Honga (middle hitter), Savanna Jones (defensive specialist) and Alyssa Peterson (right-side hitter); and freshmen Elly Hillukka (middle hitter) and Martha Peterson (outside hitter).

Menahga tied for sixth place in the Park Region Conference standings a year ago with a 2-5 record. Wadena-Deer Creek won the conference title with a 7-0 mark while Verndale (6-1), Sebeka (5-2), New York Mills (3-4) and Henning (3-4) followed. Pillager also went 2-5 while Bertha-Hewitt finished 0-7.

For the Section 6A tournament, the Braves received the No. 6 seed in the North and opened the playoffs by defeating No. 11 Lake Park-Audubon before being eliminated by No. 3 Breckenridge. Underwood defeated Sebeka in the section championship match to advance to state.

"All-in-all, we are a very young team," said Hahn, who will be assisted by Lindsey White and Lakyn Anderson. "As in past years, we have another very solid conference with some great teams with a lot of talent and experience. Being a very young team, we really need to be consistent with our play, especially with our defensive ball control and serving. If we can do that, the sky's the limit."