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PREP ATHLETICS: A welcoming sight

Area coaches, players thrilled to be back with the sport they love

Photo by Sam Thiel Members of the Marshall football team go through a drill during practice on Monday.

MARSHALL — Bryce Lance and Grant Louwagie put on their shoulder pads and practice jerseys, strapped on their helmets and hit the field with some energy. The two Marshall seniors, along with the rest of Minnesota, are ready to play the game they love.

Inside the gymnasium doors at Marshall High School, it was much of the same, as the Marshall volleyball team ran through some fundamental drills, with the decibel level increasing with each play. After all, there were plenty of reasons to be excited.

After having their seasons postponed last month to the spring, high school football and volleyball teams will get their turn starting next week after the Minnesota State High School League reversed its decision and allowed the two sports to return to the fall season, with football passing by a 15-3 vote and volleyball by a 14-4 decision.

“When I found out, I freaked out for a little bit,” Louwagie said. “I kind of thought we had a good chance at playing, and then when it came out (today), I got really excited. I was just talking to all of the guys and we were freaking out about it.”

Minneota volleyball coach Hayley Fruin said she even saw a different change in energy from her team heading into this week of practice.

“There was a different vibe going into the gym (today),” Fruin said. “They came in with more focus and fire, so we started to really break down our fundamentals and get back to the beginning.”

Both volleyball and football were able to start three weeks of optional practices last week. Lance said even though it was just the first week of practice last week, they remained optimistic that there was going to be a season in the immediate future after hearing the news from last Tuesday’s workshop meeting between MSHSL board members that there was going to be a special session meeting on Monday.

“Last week was our first week of practice and we were pretty optimistic because there was a meeting last week talking about football and its reopening so it was a good week of practice because we knew there was a possibility of having a season again,” Lance said. “It was a really energetic week, so just hearing this news again, we’re going to be ready for another week.”

Once the season officially starts next Monday, football teams will only have 10 days of preseason practice to get ready for their first game of the season. Marshall coach Terry Bahlmann said they’ve already been able to establish their schemes and get their players running them, so now they’re turning their focus towards creating as much depth as they can on either side of the ball.

“”We’ve done a good job of getting our schemes in and our kids know our schemes so I think we’ll be fine there, so right now it’s just getting them back in shape,” Bahlmann said. “A lot of guys haven’t done anything since last March, so we’re also going to need a lot of depth and a lot of guys to play both sides of the football that first game and give kids a lot of opportunities.”

Like their counterparts on the gridiron, volleyball teams will officially begin the season next Monday and have just 10 days to prepare for their first match. Marshall coach Dan Westby said one of the biggest challenges they’ll face with the quick turnaround is replacing the senior leadership they had from a season ago, as Marshall graduated four players who played significant minutes on the floor for them.

“That part is going to be difficult because we played a lot of seniors last year. The difference between what we’re facing in volleyball and what we’re potentially facing in girls basketball is a lot different because in basketball we’ve got a lot of kids returning but in volleyball we had four seniors last year that were All-Conference so it’ll be hard to replace those kids,” Westby said. “Hopefully with the time that we have with these practices, we can develop some of that stuff that we lost and be ready to go when it’s time to start playing matches.”

Westby added that they’re also trying to make things feel as normal as possible with their practices.

“We approached last week’s practices like a normal fall camp. We approached it like we would with a typical August,” Westby said. “We’ve tried to make it feel like a normal season as much as possible and I know that’s hard to do at the end of September, but that’s what we’ve tried to do.”

Fruin said their athletes have had a lot of time to think about competing since March when many of them last stepped foot on a playing surface, and they’re hoping to limit as many distractions as they can going into the season.

“It’s about the kids, especially this year more than ever. It’s been on their minds since March and they’re ready to go,” Fruin said. “As coaches, we’re trying to keep it as normal and also as fun as possible and have fewer distractions even though there is a lot going on.”

As they gear up for the first few weeks of the season, WWG athletic director and football co-coach Leo Theisen said he’s looking forward to seeing their students as well as their community members enjoy having activities again. With the initial postponement of football and volleyball in August, WWG didn’t have any fall sports competing during the past month.

“The biggest thing is our student body will get to have activities again,” Theisen said. “Just having that joy, especially on Friday nights with the football games, for not only them but also the community as well will be exciting times. But we also need to be careful.”

Louwagie added they’re going to have to put it all out on the line and not take anything for granted.

“We don’t know how long our season’s going to be this year, so we need to give it our all every single practice and every game that we get,” he said.

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