Young Packers hope to build own legacy
At a glance, 2018 has the look of a transition year for the West Fargo volleyball team.
Few teams in the state were as reliant on a senior class as the Packers in 2017, as the group of Darian Chwialkowski, Tiana Pfaff, Taylor Morris, Kinsey Erickson and Kalli Hegerle led West Fargo to a 34-2 finish in one of the better seasons in program history.
But with that group—which accounted for nearly 90 percent of the team's kills, 86 percent of its aces, 84 percent of its assists and 76 percent of its digs a season ago—gone, there's a definite feeling of uncertainty surrounding the team as it prepares for 2018.
Head Coach Kelsey Peterson knows replacing the decorated group, which included two Division-I recruits, will be a tall task, one that's a long way from being completed.
"We're very young," Peterson said. "We have a lot of talented kids so it's going to be about where do we plug kids in to be successful. We're going to have to do some trial and error to see what works and what doesn't work and then hopefully land on something in a few weeks."
And though she does expect some growing pains, Peterson is trying to avoid the use of one dreaded word heading into the new season.
"We don't want to call it a rebuilding year because then we're kind of surrendering right away," she said. "It's all about replacing those roles and owning those roles and stepping into it. Somebody's got to step up."
As she waits for roles to become more defined, Peterson plans to lean on this senior group to make the transition a smooth one.
Reserves in 2017, libero Brooklyn Myrvik and outside hitter Kaz Larson look to take on bigger roles, as does fellow senior Mariah Schatz, who didn't see varsity action a year ago.
One thing that could speed up the team's development is a strong sophomore group.
Erin Binstock, who recorded 74 kills as a freshman, is expected to play all over the frontline after spending much of 2017 as a middle hitter. Peterson also has high hopes for second-year defender Maddie Waldera, whose 96 digs were the most of any returning player on the Packer roster.
The young players say getting to compete with a decorated senior class so early in their careers has fast-tracked their development, and expect it to help them grow into leadership roles at a young age.
"I learned a ton from them," Waldera said. "It makes you more comfortable playing. It really brought my confidence up and that helps me bring other girl's confidence up."
Peterson says the confidence growth has been visible during early season practices. And though she doesn't want the shadow of past teams to hover over the head of this group, she does expect past their success to provide needed motivation as they continue to develop.
"Now that we saw what our seniors and our team was capable of doing over the last couple of years to really bring us to last year's point, that really makes our kids believe it's possible," Peterson said.
For players wanting to carve out their own legacies, the season can't start soon enough.
"We want to get our name back out there," Binstock said. "We're just going to have fun this season and see where it takes us."
The Packers open regular season play at a two-day invitational tournament at Bismarck on Friday and Saturday.