Northern Lights shoots for the moon of national volleyball titles

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 26, 2013 - 12:53 AM

The Northern Lights 18-1 volleyball team stands out for its talented players who bond together like sisters.

hide

Paige Tapp, center right, and Nora Reed, center left, combined for a double block during a Northern Lights 18-1 practice. The unusually close team of elite players will compete for an AAU national title this week.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Paige and Hannah Tapp made their first 90-minute trip to the Northern Lights volleyball training center in Burnsville in December of 2011. Coming from the southeastern Minnesota volleyball hotbed of Stewartville, the tall and talented twin sisters were looking to take their game to another level. Northern Lights, with a roster that reads like a who’s-who of metro-area volleyball players, seemed like just the place to do it.

They entered the volleyball palace, unsure of what to expect or even if they belonged. That feeling lasted about as long as introductions.

“We were really nervous at first,” said Paige Tapp, who, at 6-2, is an inch shorter than her sister. “But we felt accepted pretty much right away. We’ve been comfortable here almost from the beginning.”

The sisters immediately took their places on Northern Lights’ top team at their age level. Among the seven other players on the team were Alyssa Goehner, Lakeville North’s dynamic outside hitter; Sarah Wilhite, Eden Prairie’s lanky hitting and digging machine; and Samantha Seliger Swenson, a smooth, heady setter whose play belies that she’s two years younger than the others.

Their talents meshed so well that Northern Lights won the AAU National 17-under Championship in Orlando last summer.

“That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Hannah Tapp said.

The core five are together again this year with four new teammates from the metro area and they’ve moved up to the highest level available for girls 18 and under. They spent the spring asserting themselves as one of the nation’s best youth teams, winning elite tournaments in Omaha and Denver and compiling a 62-3 record. The jewel was winning the Pordenone (Italy) Memorial in early April, becoming only the second American team to win the prestigious international event.

In short, the Northern Lights’ 18-1 Junior Olympic girls’ volleyball can make a strong case for being the best girls’ volleyball team to ever come out of Minnesota.

“There have been other teams we’ve had that have had as much individual talent,” coach and club director Adam Beamer said. “But the thing that sets this team apart is how well they get along. This is the best team, in that sense of the word.”

Northern Lights is competing in Orlando this week, trying to win another AAU national championship. When that tournament is over, the team heads to Dallas with their eyes on an even bigger prize: the U.S. Junior Olympic Championship.

Winning one would be a tremendous accomplishment. Winning both? Practically unheard of, but it’s what the Northern Lights girls have in mind.

“We’re focused,” said Wilhite, one of four players on the team who will be playing college volleyball for the Gophers. “And we are all so supportive of each other. That helps so much. We all know what we have to do.”

This team includes newcomers in defensive specialists Lauren Houg of Wayzata and Kat Hawkins of Blaine, outside hitter Tegan LaBerge of Maple Grove and middle blocker Nora Reed of Hopkins. Together since early December, the teammates’ current 11-day journey is their fourth and longest out-of-state trip.

For many teams, fatigue and personality conflicts would be their biggest worry. But this group’s strength is getting along, and it shows on the court.

“That is the amazing thing,” Houg said. “You have elite athletes all together in one place and we all enjoy each other’s company so much. You can have nine great individuals, but if they don’t come together as a team, you aren’t going to win anything.”

A strong bond among teammates has been evident from the beginning, Wilhite said, but the trip to Italy provided the industrial-strength glue.

“That was the most incredible experience,” she said. “We hung out all the time. We were always together. We didn’t want to go to our own rooms. That’s when you could really feel our, well, teaminess.”

With such differing backgrounds and schools, such “teaminess” is remarkable. It’s also not quite as organic as the players would like to believe.

“It’s taken a little bit of work,” said Beamer, a 30-year volleyball coach and player who has seen firsthand how conflict and selfishness can whittle away at high hopes.

“We stressed bonding from day one,” he said. “We talked about getting things out in the open and supporting each other. Last year, we had a long talk about it and since then, everything has been great.”

While Northern Lights has been clearly been among the best teams in the nation for two years — “People know who we are,” Wilhite said — the task ahead is tougher than it was a year ago. To win the titles they’re shooting for, they’ll likely have to beat two archrivals on their home courts: Orlando Amateur Volleyball in the AAU tournament and Texas Amateur Volleyball in Dallas. Seeing the difficult road ahead, Beamer spoke realistically.

“There are some really good, athletic teams. We can’t make mistakes and expect to win,” he said. “But the best part of this team is that no one gets down on each other. They’re all pulling for each other. That makes a huge difference.”

Win or lose, team members are aware of their place in Minnesota volleyball history. They are also aware that this will be their last time playing together. Seven of them are headed off to college (Goehner and Seliger Swenson are still in high school), ready to take the next step in their volleyball careers.

“I’m excited to see what I can do in college,” said Wilhite, who will share a dorm room at Minnesota with the Tapp sisters. “But I’ll never forget this team. They aren’t just friends. Their like sisters.”

 

  • related content

  • Chart: Get to know the Northern Lights 18-1 volleyball team

    Wednesday June 26, 2013

    A look at the Northern Lights 18-1 roster:Alyssa GoehnerSchool: Lakeville NorthGraduation year: 2014Position: Outside hitterHeight: 5-10College: Marquette

  • Tegan LaBerge of Maple Grove, a newcomer to the Northern Lights 18-1 team, has helped the squad compile a 62-3 record this spring.

  • Coach Adam Beamer gathered the Northern Lights 18-1 volleyball team at the end of practice. “We are all so supportive of each other,” outside hitter Sarah Wilhite said. “That helps so much.”

  • Northern lights

    A look at the Northern Lights 18-1 roster:

    Alyssa Goehner

    School: Lakeville North

    Graduation year: 2014

    Position: Outside hitter

    Height: 5-10

    College: Marquette

    Katherine Hawkins

    School: Blaine

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Defensive specialist

    Height: 5-9

    College: Colorado

    Lauren Houg

    School: Wayzata

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Libero

    Height: 5-8

    College: Marquette

    Tegan LaBerge

    School: Maple Grove

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Right-side hitter

    Height: 6-1

    College: Drake

    Nora Reed

    School: Hopkins

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Middle blocker

    Height: 6-1

    College: Drake

    Samantha Seliger Swenson

    School: Hopkins

    Graduation year: 2015

    Position: Setter

    Height: 6-0

    College: Minnesota

    Hannah Tapp

    School: Stewartville

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Middle blocker

    Height: 6-3

    College: Minnesota

    Paige Tapp

    School: Stewartville

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Middle blocker

    Height: 6-2

    College: Minnesota

    Sarah Wilhite

    School: Eden Prairie

    Graduation year: 2013

    Position: Outside hitter

    Height: 6-1

    College: Minnesota

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Oakland - J. Lester 7:07 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Minnesota 10/2/14 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Boston
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Ottawa 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Carolina 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Tampa Bay 7:30 PM
Dallas
Colorado 8:00 PM
Calgary
Los Angeles 9:30 PM
San Jose
Fla Atlantic 10/2/14 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 10/2/14 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 10/2/14 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Is it the right move to replace Ron Gardenhire?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close