Scuba diving, the most thrilling of Sydney and Lydia Dimke's offseason hobbies, has allowed Blaine's volleyball standouts to experience the wonders of the deep.
About 20 dives into Caribbean waters introduced the sisters to "a whole new world," Sydney said. "I didn't know that stuff existed on this planet."
While those adventures into the depths are something they share alone, the Dimkes hope to lead teammates to the uncharted heights of the Class 3A state tournament. The current seniors were in eighth grade the last time Blaine qualified. A golden opportunity got squandered last season as the Bengals blew a 2-0 section finals lead on their home court in a 3-2 loss to Centennial.
"Ask anybody; we are still so bitter about it," said Sydney, a senior right-side hitter. "We all know that feeling stinks, and we are not going to want it to happen again."
Though surrounded by strong players, the Dimkes must emerge as Blaine's go-to hitters. They combined for 346 kills last season, more than 30 percent of the team's total. Those numbers would have been higher had mononucleosis not sidelined Sydney for 12 matches. In addition, Lydia was making her varsity debut as a freshman and played middle blocker for the first time. Still, they helped Blaine to a 24-5 record and a top-10 ranking.
"They definitely change the environment in the gym," Blaine coach Celeste Gorman said. "They make everyone around them work harder."
Both girls improved their games in the offseason through different methods. Sydney focused on her jumping and improved her vertical by 5 inches, "So hopefully I'll be getting over blocks more this season," she said.
Lydia endured a nonstop run of high-level tournaments and camps, the highlight coming in June as her Northern Lights 15-1s club team won the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championship in Atlanta. Lydia was named the tournament's most valuable player and cemented her place among the nation's top players in her age group.
Lydia played setter for Northern Lights and hopes to get more time at the position this fall. She also grew a few more inches and now stands 6-1, a height sure to make her a formidable hitter. Gorman said she plans to use Lydia in both roles.
"It'd be weird if she didn't do both because she does both so well," Sydney said.
To find balance in their volleyball-centric lives, the girls participate in hobbies uncommon among their peers. In addition to scuba diving, they go on weeklong family fishing trips to Canada -- both catch walleyes, but only Sydney will eat them -- and enjoy shooting clay pigeons.
Sydney talked Lydia into making the fishing trip this summer because their busy lives could have delayed the getaway for several years. Sydney will play college volleyball at South Dakota next year while Lydia's growing volleyball status is certain to pull her in myriad directions.
Time is running out on their two-season volleyball alliance, and the Dimkes have big plans for themselves and their team. Other returning players such as Taylor Dordan, Alex Brown and Sierra Trost possess great serving and passing skills and will add experience and athletic ability. And the season-ending loss to Centennial provides plenty of fuel.
"I take that feeling of despair that I had with me to every practice," Lydia said. "That's not going to be us this year. We're going to be on the other side of it. We're going to be the ones cheering."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574