Tigers to be a force in Class A
The similarity in headline between this article and the one above is not a mistake. While the North Branch volleyball team has been shifted from Class AAA to Class AA, the Rush City squad has also been moved, from Class AA to Class A.
Like the Vikings, the Tigers have gone from being one of the smallest schools in their class to being one of the biggest, and the Tigers are also predicted to make an immediate impact in their new division. The two teams even align in their preseason rankings — as the Vikings are in Class AA, the Tigers come into the season ranked No. 6 in Class A.
“This is exciting and unnerving at the same time,” head coach Eric Telander said. “When we’re in AA we’re playing teams that are two or three times our size. In A we’re more comparable.”
Despite having to punch above their weight in Class AA, the Tigers landed many knockout blows. In 2015 the team reached the Section 7AA semifinals, and last year they took a 2-1 lead in the section title game before finally bowing out against Hermantown.
The Tigers will leave their familiar postseason foes behind, and enter unknown territory as the newest members of the 25-team Section 5A. Kimball defeated Braham in the final last year, while Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Verndale are also strong.
Many of the Tigers’ Great River Conference opponents are in Section 5A as well. The Tigers won every conference match last year en route to winning the league crown. A second unbeaten run is off the table after the Tigers lost at Onamia to begin the season.
The Tigers only graduated one senior from last year’s squad, and will rely on a large group of veterans: senior outside hitter Stephanie Braund, senior setter Taylor Williams, senior right-sider Abby Moe, junior right-sider Kaylyn Bowen, junior middle hitters Shawna Mell and Jamie Guptill and junior outside hitter Katie McDonald.
“We have a lot of height and talent on the court,” Telander said. “We have a group of kids who have a strong will to win.”
The rest of the players making the varsity cut are junior liberos Elena Herberg and Katie Groh, sophomore setter Taylor Voight and freshman outside hitters Ellie White and Ally Rood.
The one opening due to graduation occurs at libero, and new player Herberg — a top-class athlete on the basketball and track teams — will be an interesting experiment to watch.
“We’re still working out where everybody’s going to be on the back line; a month from now it could change,” Telander said.
The Tigers play their home opener against East Central Thursday. The Tigers will play in tournaments at the Midwest Volleyball Warehouse in Burnsville Sept. 22-23 and at Mora Sept. 30.
“We’re working hard and there are lots of opportunities this year,” Telander said.