Rachel Kilkelly stepped onto the Shakopee volleyball court Monday morning with a little bounce in her step along with a smile on her face. The senior was sporting a black T-shirt with the words “Rise As One” in white lettering across the school’s red Saber logo.
“It’s nice to get back in the gym,” said Kilkelly on the first day of fall practice for volleyball programs across the state. “This sets the tone for the entire season.”
The captain was one of nearly 60 players participating in the initial day of tryouts. The Gopher recruit has been a mainstay in the Sabers starting lineup since eighth grade.
“It’s exciting and sad at the same time being my last season,” Kilkelly said. “It’s going to be fun being a leader this year.”
Her teammates were clad in four different colored T-shirtsthat identified their grade — black for seniors, red for juniors, white for sophomores and gray for eighth- and ninth graders.
“We have to stay focused on being a team, working together,” Kilkelly said.
Sabers coach Matt Busch got practice underway with a 6-on-6 progression drill spread across three courts. There was a mixture of the colored T-shirts on each of them.
It only took a minute before Busch was blowing his whistle to get everybody’s attention.
“I don’t hear purposefully volleyball communication,” Busch said. “I just hear noise. That’s not good enough. Start communicating!”
A short time later players did a passing drill, Kilkelly’s specialty. That’s what she will be counted on for the Gophers. For the Sabers, Kilkelly will play wherever needed.
“I really like passing to my teammates, but I could also hit or set,” Kilkelly said. “It’s more of a challenge (doing everything.”
This time Busch gave his players an additional minute before the sound of his whistle echoed throughout the gym.
“Our communication isn’t good enough right now,” Busch said. “We have to be ready to go right from the start of every drill.”
It was a sluggish beginning for the Sabers, who welcomed back six players who played regularly and 11 members from their section tournament roster of a year ago. They are coming off a 19-10 season.
Kilkelly would like nothing better than to see the squad take its next step by reaching the Class 3A state tournament, something she’s never done. The Sabers’ last trip was in 2012.
“That would be the perfect way to end it, but that’s not what we should be focused on right now,” Kilkelly said. “We need to be focused on taking everything one day at a time.”