BY DAVID PEDERSEN
Delano volleyball coach Rebecca Rue says it is not unrealistic to picture her team playing in the Class 3A, Section 2 tournament title game.
Considering how Delano was given the No. 5 section seed, the optimism may seem unrealistic. However, Rue points out how her young team has been competitive against highly ranked teams and the Tigers are getting healthier.
Delano played down the stretch without senior hitter Amanda Hanson, who had started at the state tournament as a ninth-grader. Senior hitter Bridget Pinoniemi missed three quarters of the season with a back injury and junior libero (defensive specialist) was slowed by leg soreness.
Rue also realizes how much the experience will benefit talented younger players, some who earned valuable playing time in relief of injured players.
Delano opened the playoffs against Mankato East Wednesday, after this issue went to press. The winner goes to play at No. 4 Shakopee on Saturday, Oct. 27. The game was moved from Friday due to a schedule conflict.
Shakopee has a 15-12 record and Delano is 21-6, but Rue says her Tigers got the lower seed because of strength of league schedule and the fact Shakopee edged Delano three games to two to start the season.
Delano went on to finish second in the competitive Wright County Conference behind Waconia, the No. 1 section seed. Rue calls it the toughest section in the state.
“There is no distinct No. 1 team in the section,” adds Rue. “On any given night all the teams are beatable. We won a game against Waconia, showing they are beatable. We will have to limit our errors in order to win big games.”
The winner of a Shakopee-Delano match would likely face top seed Waconia Tuesday, Oct. 30. The section title match is Nov. 3.
Rue would love to have her senior leaders back in action for the playoffs. She adds how, when top players went down with injuries, there was no panicking and the team kept winning.
Even playing without Hanson, Delano was able to defeat defending section champ Hutchinson 3-2 last week. Junior Shelby Seurer led with 19 kills, 10 digs, four blocks and four ace serves.
Pinoniemi had 14 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore Bria Barfnecht had 10 kills, while senior Jordan Meyer and eighth-grader Tori Hanson both had eight kills in the balanced attack. Sophomore Kristin Kreklow produced 56 set assists with 10 digs and Heinonen added 12 digs.
On the season, Seurer led with 386 hits, good for a 48 hitting percentage. She added 81 blocks and 30 ace serves. Barfnecht had 155 kills, 52 blocks and 32 ace serves.
Amanda Hanson had 146 kills and Tori Hanson added 134. The players are not related. Tori is the sister of Delano football quarterback Toby Hanson. Rue said Tori has over-exceeded expectations.
Kreklow not only had 852 of her team’s 929 set assists, she led with 48 ace serves. Heinonen led with 316 digs.
The coach says Seurer is one of the better middle hitters around. Plus, she is an all-around good player, staying on the court for the full player rotation. This adds a new dimension because Seurer can be set for kills from the back row.
“Shelby is physically strong and has great court sense,” adds Rue. “It is not always who hits the hardest, but who is the smartest. If blocked, Seurer will tip the ball to the open spot.”
Barfnecht, a new varsity player, was counted on more when Hanson went out and has become a big factor in the offense, adds the coach.
“Bria is more confident and consistent with her hitting,” says Rue. “We have seen huge leaps in improvement. She may be the most athletic player on the team.”
Kreklow has developed into a standout setter and server. Rue says the sophomore has a high volleyball IQ, knowing who to set. She also has quickened the tempo of the offense.
Contributing to the offense has been Meyer. Rue said when Hanson returns she will put Meyer as the outside hitter who will try to block the opposing team’s top hitter.
Rue said when watching Tori Hanson play, it is easy to forget she is an eighth-grade newcomer. She also is athletic, also playing basketball and fastpitch softball.
Delano will graduate three key players but return a strong talent base, including sophomore Alex Wittinger, who was a hitting leader as a ninth-grader but missed this season due to knee surgery.