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Season Preview: Volleyball

Members of the West Fargo volleyball team including Katelyn Holland, center, and Courtney Voeller, right, celebrate their 3-1 win over Fargo North last season in the North Dakota East Region tournament at the Fargo Civic Auditorium.

The West Fargo volleyball team is coming back with more experience and talent.

If everything comes together on the court as the season wears on, those should correlate to more wins, too.

So far, this year's Packers have shown during practice that they are ready to take on their tough conference and state opponents, which is good considering their first taste of competition is Friday for a two-day, East-West Crossover tournament in Bismarck.

"We had a really good first week," West Fargo coach Paula Pierson said. "We're seeing a lot of things that impress us, but also some things that need work."

The Packers are coming off a season in which they finished 8-6 in conference play, and 19-16 overall. They also just missed a berth to the state tournament, as Fargo North got the edge for more head-to-head wins over West Fargo.

Last year's Packers team was also coming off one of its best seasons in 2008, in which they cruised to a second-straight EDC title on the heels of a flawless 16-0 regular season before taking third place at state.

But where last year's team took a hit from a large loss of seniors, this year's will more than make up for it.

"We're definitely coming in with better experience," Pierson said. "We have very strong seniors, and our junior core also is very strong."

Only three seniors graduated from last year's Packers squad. They included Kristin Kautz, Courtney Voeller and All-Conference pick Jenna Green. But while they may be gone, other veterans are ready and willing to step up.

Leadership is an area that, "from a coaching perspective, is very important," Pierson said.

Senior leaders this season include Jill Gustafson, Carissa Becher, Katelyn Holland and Danielle Nelson. Last year, Holland was ranked second on the team in digs behind Voeller with 328. She also accumulated a team-high 180 kills, and was 100 percent at setting.

As a setter, Gustafson racked up most of the stats at that position beside Ali Barta. Gustafson was nearly 99 percent setting, while also picking up 118 kills and 174 digs, and was named Hardest Worker by her team.

Becher and Nelson were both middle hitters last year, though Nelson also was an outside hitter. Becher was named Most Improved by season's end after putting up 129 kills and 164 digs.

On the attack, the Packers should be fairly powerful.

"We feel we will be offensively pretty competitive," Pierson said, "but defensively we need to step it up."

Helping out on that end will be Barta. As a sophomore last season, Barta was 98.45 percent at setting, and was fourth on the team in kills and digs with 144 and 242, respectively.

As the start of the season fast approaches, the Packers are working extra hard to push the envelope.

"We're trying to get our game to another level," Pierson said.

That means mixing players up until she can find the right fit.

"Now is a time to experiment with our lineup," Pierson said. "We definitely have some kids we know are set."

With a loaded schedule, there is time to make the Packers into a well-oiled machine. That's important if they want to reach their goal of finishing in the top four of the EDC and making the state tournament.

"We have some juniors and sophomores that have talent," Pierson said. "Competition is what we're based on."

As far as conference play, the Packers will have to watch out for Grand Forks Red River. They are always "one of the top teams to beat," Pierson said. "No matter how many that graduate, they always come back with a strong team."

Closer to home, Fargo South and Fargo Shanley will hold their own.

"South is senior heavy, and seniors understand the urgency of the season," Pierson said. "And every time you look at Shanley, you know they are a strong defensive team."

As far as Fargo Davies, the new team this season, Pierson said it's tough to tell.

"They are like any new team coming in: you just have to wait and see," she said.