Confidence has been a key component missing from the Rosemount volleyball program in recent history.
That has changed thanks to the growth of the setter-hitter combination of seniors Erin Slinde and Brittany McLean, both Division I recruits. Slinde is headed to West Virginia while McLean will be a Gopher.
“We want to lead by example, and be role models,” Slinde said. The tandem serves as captains along with senior Abigail Nelson. “We want to make sure our teammates have the same high expectations as we do.”
The Irish are ranked No. 9 in Class 3A by the coaches association.
“We’re ranked for the first time in the history of the program,” McLean said. “It’s been a big transition to get to this point.”
The tandem has been in the Irish starting lineup since they were eighth-graders. They finished with an overall record of 13-14 that season, and still finished in last place in the 10-team South Suburban Conference.
“I was happy when I was called to be on the varsity team,” McLean said. “It was the coolest thing ever. I didn’t know that to expect.”
That initial season they were on a squad that also had 10 seniors and a junior.
“We were so young, and the other players were so old,’’ Slinde said. “It was intimidating.”
They learned what it took to be successful, winning 18 matches their freshmen season. They followed it up with back-to-back 20-victory seasons.
“It’s amazing what we’ve been through in five years.” Slinde said. “We’ve gone from the bottom of the conference in eighth grade to one of the top 10 teams in the state.”
They opened their final season by defeating No. 9 Hopkins. They have lost to No. 7 Roseville as well as Centennial and Concordia Academy.
“We struggled to beat teams like Hopkins in the past,” Irish coach Smokey Vitek said. “We’ve struggled with consistency and confidence against the better teams.”
The Irish have a month to address those challenges. They finish the regular season with matches against No. 6 Eagan (Oct. 13), No. 1 Lakeville South (Oct. 20) and No. 3 Prior Lake (Oct. 22).
“Our tougher matches are at the end of the season,” Slinde said. “We want to peak at the end.”
The Irish have become known for an efficient, quick-attacking offense in which Slinde and McLean shine.
“We connect really well,” Slinde said. “We’ve been playing together for five years, and have established a strong offense.”
The key to their success down the stretch will be in how they defend.
“We need our defense and serve receiving to catch up with our offense,” Slinde said. “We need to improve on our weaknesses. We need to play good defense to be able to run our offense.”
That is a must to reach its ultimate goal of a trip to the state tournament. That’s happened only once (1988) in the history of the program.
“We have only one volleyball banner in our gym, and it serves as a reminder on how long it has been,” Slinde said. “Hopefully, our captains next year will see one from 2015.”