Last fall was a constant struggle to find the right lineup. And toward the end of the season, the Red Wing volleyball team was finally starting to jell.
"Last year, we spent a lot of time trying to find a right combination. Toward the end, we found the ones that could play together," said Wingers second-year head coach Dave Lyons. "This year, it's about amplifying them more. The more they trust each other, the more cohesive they play."
Lyons added, "We should be more competitive in a lot more games this year."
Going 7-19 last fall, including 1-11 in the Big Nine Conference, Red Wing returns five of its six starters from a year ago, led offensively by Big Nine honorable mention Madisyn Lyons (216 kills, 122 digs, 36 blocks, 10 ace serves) and Vanessa Frazier (105 kills, 60 digs, 27 blocks, 13 ace serves). At setter, Macy Koester resumes that role after tallying 385 assists.
"We'll also have Hannah Rodgers back from an ankle injury. Then there's Abi Deming and Elle Thorson in the middle, and we'll have two other possibilities on the JV," Dave said. "The squad has matured a lot since the start of last year and toward the end of last fall. The foundation's there, we just have to get them more confident, get them different sets to hit and trust their setter."
The Wingers won't have size at the net, with no players listed on the varsity taller than 5-foot-10. So, the goal will be to move the ball around and get more favorable matchups for the hitters.
"We're looking to run some tandems, some quick ones. We have to do that," Dave said. "We have to trust that our setter will get the ball where you need it instead of standing on the ground and all of a sudden, you see it."
Passing, both at the net and in the back row, will dictate a lot of Red Wing's success this fall. The one starter the team has to replace is Big Nine honorable mention libero Grace Pagel.
In the second week of practice before the team's season-opener against Lake City on Aug. 31, the Wingers are still looking for that player who can be the defense's anchor.
"It's going to be a work in progress," Dave said. "We're trying some different girls at that position. It'll be more of a group. We'll try to use a couple people at libero and we're going to use a lot of defensive specialists. We're hoping to see someone surface as a natural. ... No one has really stood out and said, 'I'll be the one.' But we got some possibilities."
There is still that major hole to fill. But compared to last year, thing are coming easier to Red Wing under Lyons' tutelage.
"They just understand the game more," Dave said. "They know the speed high school is played at. For us to be somewhat competitive this year, we have to run quicker sets and quicker offenses because we're not overly tall. We're going to have to try and hit the gaps when they're open and create one-on-ones with our hitters. And that has to start with some decent passers."