They were the little girls in the big gym, the tag-alongs following older sisters, hoping one day to be like them.
The high school sports world has always been awash with siblings. Ask any coach and he or she will tick off a list of family surnames that have come through the program.
This season, some of the most notable second acts have come on the volleyball court, where a number of top players are walking a path blazed by a successful sister.
“She’s my role model,” Kennedi Orr, Eagan’s superb sophomore setter, said of older sister Brie, who now holds down the same position at the University of Iowa. “We have a picture at home where she is sticking her foot in a sprinkler and I’m 2 or 3 years old, standing in the background, sticking my foot out the same way. I always wanted to be like her.”
North Branch junior outside hitter Cianna Selbitschka recalls accompanying sister Courtney to volleyball practice and absorbing the game around her, despite being too young to participate. “I would hit a ball off the wall and I always tried to pay attention to what they were doing,” she said.
With father Mike Selbitschka coaching and Courtney swinging away at the net, North Branch made it to the state tournament for the first time in 21 years in 2015, taking the Class 3A consolation championship. The Vikings made it again last season, this time with Cianna hitting bombs at the net. This year they are currently ranked No. 5 in Class 2A.
At Concordia Academy, sophomore Kira Fallert is the third member of the Fallert family to play for the Beacons. She follows Megan, who went on to play at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and Erin, currently a standout at Concordia (St. Paul).
Other younger sisters making waves this year include Rosemount libero Mari Hinkle (Jordan), Champlin Park middle hitter Sami Hilley (Sydney) and Waconia outside hitter Kali Wolf (Jessica and Taylor).
“Both of my sisters have had a really big impact on how I play,” Kira Fallert said. “Erin probably a little more because we’re closer in age.”
The relationship is not only evident in name, but also in the way each plays. It doesn’t take an experienced eye long to see similarities in the playing style of the siblings. At Eagan, Kathy Gillen coached both Brie and Kennedi Orr for four years — Kennedi has two more to go — and she sees more than just the physical resemblance.
“Their competitive nature, their court awareness and the ability to do things they haven’t been trained to do,” Gillen noted. “They have the ability to make that great play that no one can see coming, but they do it, whatever it is.”
That, Kennedi said, comes from watching and learning.
“I’ve definitely learned from her how to do the small things that make a difference,” Kennedi said. “Just the way she rises to the level of the competition is a cool thing to have.”
Kennedi had the chance to play with Brie for two years at Eagan, the only time they played together.
“It was so cool to play with her,” she said. “Just playing with the entire Eagan team was an amazing experience, but she taught me so much.”
While the older sisters have moved on to college and coaching careers, their influence remains. And their absence has added to the younger players’ appreciation and receptiveness to instruction.
“Our relationship hasn’t changed, but I get way more excited to see her now,” Fallert said. “Disagreements happen far less often.”
Cianna Selbitschka said Courtney, who is now an assistant volleyball coach at Moorhead High School, makes it a point to pass along a tip or two whenever she’s around.
“As a coach, she’s more into looking at how people play and giving more feedback,” Cianna said. “She’ll come to a game and say, ‘Try it this way.’ She wants me to do well.”
There is no denying, however, a need to step out from the shadows. Riding the coattails can only take one so far.
“Sometimes, I want to be Kira. I want to be my own person,” Fallert said. “I’ve been helped by my sisters so much, but I want to be own person, play my own game and make my own path.”
Orr said that, as much credit as she gives Brie for her development, she has her own set of very desirable skills. She has a verbal commitment to play at Nebraska after graduation,
“I’ve never been determined to set my own path,” she said. “Sometimes I think I have game just like [Brie] and sometimes I can see all the differences. It’s about embracing your individuality.”