By Bob San
Osseo-Maple Grove Sports
After a regular season marked by winning and losing streaks, the young Maple Grove volleyball team is looking to make a strong run in the section tournament.
The Crimson opened the season with eight straight wins, went through a 2-8 stretch before winning their final eight matches to finish 18-9 and 5-5 in the Northwest Suburban Conference. First-year head coach Sean Haugen knew his inexperienced squad would go through some ups and downs.
“The season is going well for the girls. We have run into some bumps along the way, but that at times is to be expected,” Haugen said. “Every journey has it bumps, but our philosophy is to learn and become better as a team. The team as a whole has been learning new things at their identity and how they play as a group. We are a very young and inexperienced team this season. We only have four main players with varsity experience.”
In fact, the Crimson will be young for the next several seasons.
“The program as a whole is very young too,” Haugen said. “Out of the 50 players, half are seventh and eighth graders. As a staff, we have been doing lots of modeling and shaping from top to bottom.”
The Crimson are trying to find themselves as a team but several individuals are having stellar seasons. Senior setter Kayla Crane, as expected, is leading the team in just about all areas. An all-conference selection last year, the 5-6 Crane is displaying her all-around skills. She leads the team with 204 kills, 335 assists and 27 ace serves and has 192 digs.
“Kayla is having a great senior season,” Haugen said. “She has played in all 74 sets this season.
While Crane is a well-established veteran, two younger Crimson are gaining notoriety with their outstanding plays.
Middle hitter Lauren Bright is having a breakout season and has established herself as one of the best blockers in the state. The 5-10 sophomore leads the state in solo blocks with 83 and is second in the state in total blocks with 95. She leads the team in blocks and also in hitting percentage at .395.
“Lauren has made a name for herself this season,” Haugen said. “When we attended the Lakeville North Tournament earlier this month I had many coaches and fans come and ask about her. Lauren has a great future as a middle blocker in this conference.”
Another Crimson standout is junior libero Amber Demenge. A 5-6 spark plug who seems to be diving around for digs on every play, Demenge has emerged as one of the top liberos in the state. She leads Maple Grove and is second in the state in digs with 515 and leads the team in serve receive. She is also an excellent server and is tied for the lead on the team with 27 ace serves and a .938 serving percentage.
“Amber is doing a wonderful job at the libero position,” Haugen said. “She has proven she can be at the top of the libero position with anyone and there are some good liberos in this conference. Amber is the anchor for our defense and it shows based on her numbers and style of play.”
With Crane, Bright and Demenge leading the way and contributions from junior outside hitters Laura Prixius (176 kills) and Hailey Valencia (150 kills) and sophomore setter Paige Aspinwall (294 assists), the Crimson are hoping to make a good run in the very tough Section 5.
Maple Grove is seeded eighth and hosted ninth-seeded Rogers Oct. 22. The winner advances to play at top-seeded Osseo Thursday, Oct. 24. at 7 p.m.
Section 5AA seedings: 1. Osseo, 2. Champlin Park, 3. Blaine, 4. Mounds View, 5. St. Michael-Albertville, 6. Totino Grace, 7. Centennial, 8. Maple Grove, 9. Rogers
10. Spring Lake Park, 11. Coon Rapids, 12. Irondale.