Concordia Academy of Roseville volleyball was like a fully loaded luxury car from the start last year, and the Beacons enjoyed the ride.
The team rolled to a 25-7-2 record and was runner-up in the Class 2A state tournament, the program’s best finish since winning the Class 1A state title in 1987.
Graduation losses mean this year’s model requires installation of new parts to maximize performance.
But a solid core returns, led by senior Erin Fallert, a coaches association first-team all-state selection as an outside hitter last fall. Middle hitter Annika Neuman led the team in blocks while liberos Rachel TerHaar and Taylor Brunn solidified the defense.
Going from good to great will require breakout seasons from senior Sally Paul and sophomore Sarah McTaggart. And eighth-grader Brooke Weichbrodt will learn on the job at setter. The team might also run a 6-2 offense, which would require a second new setter.
“I think it’ll be a building thing where we slowly get to that level versus starting at that level last season,” Fallert said. “It’ll take patience, but I’m fine with that. We want to build off last year. We have a lot of key people coming back, and we would love to go back to the state tournament, obviously. I feel like it might be a little more challenging this year, but that’s the overall goal.”
A tough nonconference schedule awaits. Concordia Academy plays a Class 3A-heavy field in September at the Apple Valley Aerie Challenge tournament. October brings a tournament in Blaine, followed by matches against Apple Valley and Mounds View.
New faces might make matching last season’s 9-3 start difficult. But the Beacons are focused on another late-season surge. They won 11 of their final 12 matches and swept nine opponents.
“There’s more than just winning and losing games,” Neuman said. “You can learn a lot just from what happens in those wins and losses. Even if we don’t have a great record, we can still make it to state and make it as far as we want to go. It’s all what we make of it.”
For veterans Fallert and Neuman, this season is reminiscent of sophomore year, when a younger team steadily improved and made a surprise state tournament run. The difference, of course, is high expectation this fall. Players have prepared through weightlifting, club volleyball and open gym sessions.
Paul personifies the challenge ahead. She played behind older sister Clara the past two seasons and knows she has a big role to fill for a team with state tournament ambitions.
“We have a lot of motivation knowing that we’ve been so successful, and we really want to be back at the level,” Paul said. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure, but [Clara] was so calm and collected and she passed that on to me.”
Concordia Academy’s tradition of success means a lot to coach Kim Duis, who has taken part in seven of the Beacons’ 12 state tournament appearances as a player, assistant coach or head coach. She hopes to add to those totals in November.
“I expect to be very competitive,” Duis said. “Early on, the record may not show it and we may lose games that we will win later on. We’ve got some good things. It’ll just take time to put the puzzle pieces together.”