Olivia and Stella Swenson, the Wayzata volleyball team's exceptional junior twins — Olivia is a 6-3 outside hitter, Stella a 6-2 setter — were among the hundreds of boys' volleyball supporters packed into a west metro hotel ballroom last spring, hanging on every vote cast in hopes of hearing enough "yes" votes from members of the MSHSL Representative Assembly to sanction boys' volleyball as an official MSHSL sport.
"When that last person said 'No,' my heart just sank," Olivia recalled. "I looked around the room and all these boys were crying. I couldn't imagine having the opportunity taken away from me."
The struggles of the boys have galvanized the support of the girls, Stella Swenson said.
"Volleyball is one big family, regardless of how long you've been playing, regardless of gender," she said. "We all really, really want the boys to play volleyball."
The Swensons — who have both committed to follow older sister Samantha to the Gophers, where she was a two-time All-America selection as a setter — stood out among a gathering of more than 80 girls in the Wayzata gym Monday, representative of the thousands of athletic teams across the state that came together on the first official day of practice for fall sports for the 2022-23 school year.
No team has been more successful in recent years than the Wayzata volleyball team, which hasn't lost a match since 2019. The Trojans are riding a string of 54 match victories and have won the past two high school state championships: Class 3A in 2019, 4A in 2021. No state tournament was held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Swensons and senior defensive specialist Sophia Johnson, a commit to California-Berkeley, are leaders among the Wayzata players hoping to continue their winning ways this year, stepping in for 10 seniors from the 2021 team. The Swensons and Johnson played together on the top 17-age-group team at Minnesota Select that finished runner-up at the USVA Junior Nationals in Indianapolis in early July.
The start of the high school season brings a new sort of excitement for the players, trading a higher profile and more community recognition for the elite-level club talent.
Johnson said she approaches both seasons identically. It's all just volleyball.
"There are a lot more eyes, so there is always pressure," she said. "We look at it as a positive. There are nerves, but it's more that we're ready to get going."