PREVIEW: NB volleyball

Outside hitter Cianna Selbitschka stars on offense and defense. (File photos)

Vikings to be a force in Class AA

When the Minnesota State High School League released its biennial realignment last spring, to take effect this fall, the North Branch volleyball team found itself dropped from Class AAA to Class AA.

“When we work to get there, it will be a different feel,” head coach Mike Selbitschka said. “We go from playing against some schools with almost 3,000 kids; it’ll be a nice change. We’ll be in this spot for a couple of years at least, and we’ll see what we can do.”

By enrollment, North Branch had been one of the smallest schools in Class AAA. Despite that, the Vikings were a force, advancing to the state tournament in 2015 and reaching the Section 7AAA semifinals last year after wiping out top-seeded Elk River’s own state dreams.

For at least the next two seasons, North Branch will be one of the largest schools in Class AA. The regular season schedule won’t change much, but when the playoffs begin the Vikings will be in Section 7AA.

“We come into AA not really knowing any of our opponents,” Selbitschka said.

The teams in the new section will be unfamiliar to the Vikings, though they could ask the Rush City team for a scouting report. Rush City had been one of the strongest teams in that playoff group before being shifted downward themselves, to Class A, this year. Rush City, with about one-third the enrollment of North Branch, made a run to the section title game last year.

Before playing a game this season, the Vikings were rated No. 6 in the state preseason rankings, placing them as immediate favorites to win Section 7AA and go to state. The Vikings have only solidified that optimism in their early games, beating two Class AAA teams including reigning 7AAA champions Grand Rapids en route to a 3-0 start to the season. The Vikings also handed losses to Forest Lake and Class AA squad Jordan.

Setter Haley Hadrava is excelling in a new position.

The top player to watch will be sophomore outside hitter Cianna Selbitschka. In the Vikings’ three wins, she was responsible for 88 kills. Because she rarely leaves the court, she also leads the team defensively with 62 digs.

“(Cianna) is going to be one of our key players,” Mike Selbitschka said. “She will generate a lot of offense for us, but she does a great job on defense as well.”

After playing with only one senior last year, the Vikings will enjoy the services of seven seniors this year: libero Sophie Linder, defensive specialists Jaydin Verdick, Grace Benda and Shelby Robinson, outside hitters Katelyn Berg and Jamie Siseman, and middle hitter Maddie Hadrava.

“We’ve got a ton of girls who are stepping up,” Mike Selbitschka said. “They’ve worked really hard since last season to show people that we are who we are.”

Another key cog in the Viking machine is junior setter Haley Hadrava, who will be responsible for lining up the attack.

“(Haley Hadrava) is delivering a great ball,” Mike Selbitschka said. “She only started setting with about four weeks left in the season. She doesn’t even have a year of setting under her belt, but she’s doing a phenomenal job of placement and setting the tempo. That makes us all better.”

Junior right-sider Lydia Langevin is another power hitter on offense.

“[Langevin] is really giving us a pin-to-pin offense that keeps the [opponent’s] middle thinking which direction the ball is going,” Mike Selbitschka said.

The Vikings open Mississippi 8 play Thursday at home against Buffalo and will also host Cambridge-Isanti Sept. 12. Conference games should help sharpen up the Vikings since the rest of the M8 remains in Class AAA.

The Vikings will participate in three tournaments, starting with their home invitational Sept. 16. They will also head to Rochester Sept. 30 and Bloomington Jefferson Oct. 14.

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