Year in and year out, the Marshall area proves itself to be a hotbed for volleyball talent in the state of Minnesota, and the 2012 season was certainly no exception.
There were six players on Marshall-area teams that were awarded Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association All-State honors, five of which appear on this year's Independent All-Area first team. Marshall had a pair of All-State players, while Minneota had three. The two stacked squads showed their strength by returning to their respective state tournaments - Marshall for the 12th straight season and Minneota for the fourth time in a row.
Like they have the past three years, the Vikings finished in third place at the Class A tournament, powered by outside hitter Taylor Reiss, setter Megan Larson and outside hitter Molly Hennen.
Photo illustration by Aaron Schlemmer
The Tigers, however, stole the show yet again by repeating as Class AA champions and winning their fifth state title overall.
An All-Area first-teamer a year ago, Marshall outside hitter Kenzie Beekman took her game to another level this season, and in doing so earned herself the honor of being named the 2012 Independent Player of the Year. The junior was the top attacker in the area, piling up 512 kills at a rate of 5.5 kills per set. She also improved her play defensively, placing herself among the area leaders in digs (290) and ace blocks (43).
And when the stage was the biggest, Beekman's star shined its brightest. She tallied 59 kills in three matches during the state tournament, helping the Tigers bring back another state title to Marshall.
All-Area Honorable Mentions
Paige Erickson, WWG senior outside hitter
Sammie Gervais, TMB sophomore middle hitter
Chelsey Guetter, Wabasso junior outside hitter
Abby Herding, WWG freshman setter
Justine Lee, Dawson-Boyd sophomore outside hitter
Kylie Schuelke, Dawson-Boyd sophomore libero
Tegan VanMoer, Lakeview senior outside hitter
Janel Wichern, RTR sophomore outside hitter
The following is a look at the rest of the All-Area first team along with the All-Area second team (players listed in no particular order).
- A player Marshall head coach Dan Westby compared to Minnesota Vikings playmaker Percy Harvin, Tiger setter Sydney Griffin showed off her tremendous versatility on the court during a standout junior campaign. Griffin finished the season first on the team in set assists (510) in Marshall's 6-2 offense, she was second on the team in ace blocks (60), second in kills (287) and third in digs (219).
The 2012 Class AA All-State honoree helped guide the Tigers to state titles in 2011 and 2012, making the Class AA State All-Tournament team both seasons. She has verbally committed to play volleyball at Division I University of North Dakota for the fall of 2014.
"Sydney has improved in all areas," Westby said. "She's become an accomplished setter and a floor general for us. She has a very good feel for where her attackers need the ball.
"As a junior, she developed into an accomplished attacker, hitting .316 on the season. Sydney attacked from all three front row positions. Having the ability to do that makes it that much more difficult for teams to locate and stop her."
- It's said that defense wins championships, and the Marshall Tigers had a strong anchor in their back row with junior libero Hannah Bennett. In her second year starting for the Tigers, Bennett led not only her team, but the Marshall area in digs with 535. Bennett was incredibly steady from the service line, where she connected on 328 of 336 serves (98 percent).
Come state tournament time, Bennett remained a driving force behind the Tiger defense and earned All-Tournament honors while leading Marshall with 49 digs over the team's three matches. She was also a perfect 57 of 57 serving at state.
"Hannah improved herself to the point where teams stayed away from her in serve-receive," Westby said. "She anchored our defense and was our most dependable passer in serve-receive."
- Canby outside hitter Taylor Gorder had a big task in front of her replacing 2011 Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association Player of the Year Riley Nordgaard, and she certainly rose to the challenge. The senior earned MVCA All-State honorable mention in 2012 and emerged as one of the top attacking threats in the area. She finished fourth in the area in kills per set at 4.6 (412 total) and tied for seventh in the area in service aces with 45. Gorder was also strong on the defensive end, finishing the season with 275 digs.
Gorder led the Canby Lancers to a 20-9 record, helping extend the program's streak of 20-plus win seasons to four. She will look to continue to carry that success on to the collegiate level, as she will play for St. Olaf College next year.
"Taylor contributed in all six positions of the court," Canby head coach Amy Wagner said. "She is a great leader and worked very hard on the court."
- One of the most imposing players in the Camden Conference, Minneota middle hitter Taylor Reiss picked up right where she left off following a breakout freshman campaign. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-10 Reiss pounded down 486 kills during the season at a clip of 5.1 kills per set.
Far from just a one-tool player, Reiss was among the area leaders in multiple categories. She led the Vikings in 2012 with 39 ace serves, was 10th in the area with 288 digs, and also finished fifth in the area with 71 ace blocks.
Reiss helped the Vikings achieve a perfect conference record, and they reached the Class A state tournament for the fourth straight year. There they finished in third place for the third straight season. The team finished with a 31-4 overall record. Reiss was named to the Class A State All-Tournament team and was also an MVCA Class A All-State honoree.
- Minneota setter Megan Larson posted 962 assists during her junior campaign, which was more than 220 assists more than the next-highest total in the area. As she helped orchestrate the Vikings' high-powered offense, her eye-popping totals helped earn her MVCA All-State honors in Class A. Larson earned All-Tournament team accolades for her performance in the Class A state tournament, where she tallied 73 assists over three matches.
Proving her versatility, Larson finished 11th in the area in digs with 287. She was also among her team's leaders in ace serves (25) and ace blocks (24).
- Minneota outside hitter Molly Hennen was a major asset to the Vikings both offensively and defensively while the team made its run to the state tournament. Playing alongside talented middle hitter Taylor Reiss, Hennen provided a No. 2 attacking option most teams would dream of. The junior finished tied for sixth in the area in kills per set at 3.1 (294 total). Hennen, an MVCA All-State player in Class A, also had a nose for defense, finishing fourth in the area in digs with 386.
- A Canby senior captain along with Taylor Gorder, Lancer libero Hannah Jessen was instrumental in her team's 20-9 season as a spark plug on defense. Jessen, who will continue her career at Division I North Dakota State, was second in the area in digs with 452. She averaged 5.0 digs per set in 90 sets played. A first-time member of the Independent All-Area team, Jessen also earned All-Camden Conference accolades during the 2012 season.
- Junior middle hitter Kristi Bose was the most dangerous attacker on a Murray County Central team that finished 7-3 in Red Rock Conference play. A four-year starter for the Rebels, Bose put together her best season to date in 2012. She finished fifth in the Marshall area in kills per set at 3.7 (247 total), was seventh in digs (320), and was among the leaders in ace blocks with 41. Her strong performance helped her earn All-RRC honors for the second straight season.
- Finishing the 2012 season 19-7, the Wabasso Rabbits achieved their first winning season since 2008 and did so behind the leadership of senior captain Kimberly Frank. Frank, a 5-8 outside hitter and setter in Wabasso's 6-2 offense, posted 158 kills during the season and led the team with a .420 hitting percentage. She was also a dependable distributor, recording 458 assists (5.6 per set).
"There were a few games this year that Kimberly completely took over and won for us, with either setting or hitting," Wabasso head coach Barb Johnson said.
- Standing 5-11, Dawson-Boyd middle hitter Mari Lee was a dominant force at the net for the the Blackjacks as the program continued its climb to becoming a top contender in the Camden Conference. Lee averaged 4.7 kills per set during the season, the third-highest rate in the area. She also tallied 22 ace blocks and 24 ace serves for the season, tournaments not included, while helping lead the Blackjacks to a 21-7 record and a spot in the Camden Conference championship match, where the team lost to Minneota.
- Junior outside hitter Dayna Comnick did a little of everything for the Westbrook-Walnut Grove volleyball team as it had one of its most successful seasons in the program's history. She placed herself among the area leaders in kills at 2.8 per set (253 total), and was tied for third in the area in ace serves with 49. Comnick also led the Chargers in digs (245) while earning All-Red Rock Conference honors for the third straight year. WWG finished the season 22-7 overall and was second in the conference with a 9-1 record.
"She's an outstanding athlete that has a great sense of court awareness and control out on the court," WWG head coach Cathy Baumann said. "She is one of our most consistent and accurate passers on the team, as well as a power hitter in the front row."