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WF looking to serve up better volleyball season

Tabitha Miller bumps a volley during practice on Monday at West Fargo High. David Samson1 / 3
Jadyn Cookman sets the ball during practice Monday. David Samson2 / 3
West Fargo volleyball coach Paula Pierson conducts drills during practice on Monday. David Samson3 / 3

The West Fargo volleyball season ended just shy of breaking even in the standings and a state tournament berth last year. In an unfortunate start to the season, the Packers dealt with the loss of Amanda Levin, a graduated senior, who tore her MCL and ACL at a match during a tournament in Bismarck.

They eventually regrouped, but weren’t able to get it all together in time and lost to Fargo South in a state play-in match.

“We had some really strong seniors last year, but unfortunately we lost one of them in Amanda Levin,” said Packers’ head coach Paula Pierson, who returns for her 16th season. “We still had a number of seniors who performed very well for us; we just weren’t able to get it all together and make that state tournament.”

If the Packers can work out a few kinks prior to the start of the season, mainly in the serve-receive aspect of their game, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with the Eastern Dakota Conference.

“The ultimate goal would be to make the state tournament, and in order for that to happen for us, we’re going to have to really pick it up in serve-receive,” said Pierson. “Right now our average is just too low for passing. If we can get our serve-receive passing improved, our offense will run a lot smoother.”

The last time the Packers played in a state championship match was back in 2007 when they lost to Fargo South 3-1.

Serve-receive passing averages are calculated by dividing the total number of points a player receives for her pass attempts during a match by the total number of passes attempted. Serve-receive points are only give to a player when the opposing team is serving and are scored on a scaled of 0-3 with three being a perfect pass and zero being an unplayable pass.

The statistic is critical for outside hitters, defensive specialist, and liberos, which means seniors Mckenzie VanHoorn, Olivia Gravel, McKenzie Speidel and Tabitha Miller have their work cut out for them.

“We need to get our passing average higher than two or 2.3,” Pierson said. “Until that happens we’re going to be out of system a lot more and we really don’t want to be out of system.”

Miller and VanHoorn are both go-to hitters on the outside and senior Izzay Waite takes the lead at middle hitter.

“We do a lot of pass progression drills like rolling through our legs and bouncing through of legs to one another so I think that will help but communication is what we really need to work on,” Miller said. “I think we are pushing ourselves so hoping we can go to Minot.”

The state tournament is being held in Minot this year.

VanHoorn will also see playing time as a defensive specialist along with Gravel and Speidel, who will focus on digging out kills, returning serves, and setting up teammates.

The Packers’ solid core of talent is only strengthened by juniors Kennedi Sand, Jadyn Cookman, and many others. Sand will play either outside hitter or middle hitter and Cookman returns as setter, which Pierson considers a huge advantage for her team.

“Our strength right now would have to be the simple fact that we are returning our setter,” Pierson said. “She is your quarterback on the volleyball court; she runs your entire offense. Having that experience back and only being a junior now, it means Jadyn is going to be able to lead this team for a couple more years. Every day she gets smarter about the offense and every day she learns a little more. She’s done a wonderful job.”

“I think we have some things to work on but we’re getting there,” said Cookman. “We need to work on passing a little bit, but it’s definitely gotten better.”

The Eastern Dakota Conference season begins on Sept. 2 against Wahpeton, but the Packers play their first match Friday against Minot High at the Bismarck High and Bismarck Century Crossover.