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Volleyball to capitalize on size, athleticism

West Fargo's Shelby Gustafson slices a shot against Fargo Shanley while Amanda Levin looks on during the EDC volleyball tournament in November. Both Gustafson and Levin have returned for their senior season, and should play a pivotal role on the team’s front row. Pioneer File Photo

The Packers volleyball team is set to begin its season this weekend, and while hopes are high, some work needs to be done in the back row.

The Pack hopes to build on last season, which saw them finish fourth in the state tournament after a 21-16 record (12-6 in the Eastern Dakota Conference).

“They did a really good job of building as the season progressed, and they finished the season playing their best volleyball as a team,” head coach Paula Pierson said. “When we got to the state tournament… we played so well. The Jamestown and Red River matches were probably the best we played all year.”

However, they utilized a one-setter lineup last year, and that setter (Andrea Klug) graduated in May. Fortunately, the team has four front-row players returning that are at least 5 feet 10 inches tall.

“We have a lot of size and athleticism,” Pierson said. “I think the first thing we need to focus on is our setting position. This year, we are going to start off by trying a 4-2 (four hitters and two setters) setup. Both setters will be inexperienced at the varsity level, but we will work them into shape quickly. Our first step is to get them acclimated to the speed of the game.”

They also have a great deal of speed, especially in senior hitters Amanda Levin -- the reigning fastest girl in the state -- and Courtney Suppa.

“From an offensive point of view, we have to learn how to capitalize on that speed,” Pierson said. “We have to get our setters to deliver a quick ball.”

Despite the challenges in place -- along with some stiff competition throughout the conference -- expectations remain high for the Packers.

“The No. 1 goal is to finish in the top four of the EDC and return to the state tournament. We will set a new goal at that time,” Pierson said. “It’s a tall order, since there are some very competitive teams in our conference, but we would like to compete for a conference championship as well.”

For Pierson, the bar has been set high for the Packers because of the dedication she sees in her team, specifically the seniors.

“Our seniors have worked out all summer,” Pierson said. “They have gotten stronger and they have gotten faster, but their skill level has definitely improved. Some of underclassmen have made great strides as well. They have put in quality time. They are very smart kids and they are so darn athletic.”

The Packers will participate in the Bismarck High/ Bismarck Century Crossover Tournament this weekend, beginning against Williston on Friday at 5:15 p.m., followed by Jamestown at 6:30 p.m.