Set 2 was tied 14 times in a recent nonconference volleyball match between then No. 3-ranked New Life Academy and No. 6 Concordia Academy. It was a tight contest, but New Life lost 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-23).
New Life coach Wally Bomgren told his team that match will come in handy for the playoffs.
“Win or lose, that’s the kind of match we need and we wanted,” Bomgren said. “We tried to beef up our nonconference schedule this year, and we were able to do that.”
Before this season, New Life had trouble breaking into some of the bigger tournaments, Bomgren said. Moving from Class 1A to 2A has helped, with tournaments at Blaine and North St. Paul confirmed.
At first, senior co-captain Abby Thor wasn’t so sure about moving to 2A. Now, she said, she’s “super-happy with the move up” and the chance to play larger schools.
“We were ready for the competition that … Class 2A would provide for us,” Thor said. “I’d rather have my senior year end playing good competition, just having a blast.”
It’s something she and fellow senior captains Abby Gorter and Kara Stenerson have prepared for over the past five years. Each has been a varsity starter since eighth grade.
“We’ve been anticipating this year for five years,” Gorter said. “It’s everything I could’ve hoped for.”
Gorter and Thor each surpassed 1,000 career kills this season. Stenerson has more than 3,000 set assists and is on her way to 4,000, according to Bomgren. All three were first-team all-state players last season, and “they have been key, key players,” Bomgren said.
It’s not just about stats, either. At New Life, the varsity practices with the seventh-graders. The young players have a “big sister” within the volleyball program. They sit down together weekly to talk about character, virtues and teamwork.
“Those young kids get a feel for our program, and they want to play,” Bomgren said.
Whatever the Eagles have done with practice and preparation this season, it seems to be working. They have already left their mark after the class bump-up. They won the Class 2A Showcase tournament Sept. 25-26. The event featured some ranked teams, such as Thief River Falls and Concordia Academy, a team New Life defeated 2-1.
The Showcase has been a season highlight for the Eagles, Bomgren said. They’ve bounced back from a couple of early losses, including a 3-2 defeat against No. 9 St. Croix Lutheran.
“We just want to face the best competition we can so we’re ready at the end of the year,” Bomgren said.
Playing as a ranked team in Class 2A is a big motivator, Gorter said, because with a stronger schedule, they know they can’t just slide by.
“Other teams are willing to play us, and we’re getting more respect because we’re in double-A,” Gorter said.
Last year, New Life lost 3-0 to Mayer Lutheran in the Class 1A, Section 4 final.
In Class 2A, the Eagles remain in Section 4, but their primary roadblocks to state now are No. 10 St. Croix Lutheran and Hill-Murray, which received votes in the latest state rankings.
The No. 4 Eagles have worked hard on their serve receive game and blocking at practices. It all leads up to the ultimate goal: getting to state and winning. They have enough talent to accomplish that, Bomgren said.
Gorter remembers how Bomgren laid out the season goals at the first practice: “Coach came in and said, ‘We are going to win conference, we’re going to win the section and we’re going to win state. So we’re sticking to those goals one at a time.”