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Area Female Athlete: Bjerga setting Cardinals up for success

To the victor go the spoils and for the first time in awhile, the Staples-Motley Cardinals volleyball team is getting spoiled. Junior setter Mackenna Bjerga is a big reason for the recent wins the Cardinals enjoyed last week. During the Walker-Ha...

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Mackenna Bjerga

 

To the victor go the spoils and for the first time in awhile, the Staples-Motley Cardinals volleyball team is getting spoiled.

Junior setter Mackenna Bjerga is a big reason for the recent wins the Cardinals enjoyed last week.

During the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Tournament Sept. 22, Bjerga posted 58 set assists, 22 digs, four kills and three ace serves as the Cardinals finished 3-1 and second overall.

S-M dispatched Laporte 2-1, Nashwauk-Keewatin 2-0 and Norman County East/Ulen-Hitterdal 2-0 before falling to the host Wolves 2-0 in the championship match.

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Mackenna Bjerga

  • Year: Junior
  • School: Staples-Motley
  • Sport: Volleyball
  • Position: Setter
  • Highlights: Finished with 92 set assists, 29 digs, seven kills and five ace serves in last five games

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"We've never really had good passing, but this year we had two girls that were fighting really hard for our libero spot," Bjerga said. "Both worked super hard on their passing. Some of the other girls who are playing all the way around this year were super upset when they got taken out of the back row this year so they also worked really hard on their passing so they could stay in the game.

"There was a lot of competition for spots and that made everyone work really hard and improve."

The Cardinals rebounded from that loss with a 3-1 Mid-State Conference victory over Crosby-Ironton Monday, Sept. 24, to open up homecoming week with a bang.

Bjerga tallied 34 set assists, seven digs, three kills and two ace serves.

"In the past, our school as been really big on basketball, but lately since Cy and Gretchen (Bestland) have been coaching, there's just been more girls putting in time and effort into volleyball," Bjerga said. "There's more girls that care about volleyball and want to be good. There's a lot of girls playing league during the winter at (Central Lakes College). They're just playing all year round.

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"We have a lot of younger girls coming up and people care more and I feel that's why we're doing well."

The 4-1 record pushed S-M to 7-6 on the season. It's the first time the Cardinals have been above .500 in at least four years. One reason for the improved play has been the fast development of Bjerga at the setter position.

"When we took over three years ago, we kind of talked her into being a setter and she wasn't very happy with us," Gretchen Bestland said. "But now she just totally owns this position. We run a 5-1 so she is on the court the whole time and directing traffic. She does a great job of it and she's become a very very consistent setter.

"She has great hands; just super soft hands. She can get to the ball and is very court aware."

Bjerga wasn't excited about the move to setter. Now she couldn't imagine herself anywhere else.

"Cy is our setting coach and he's always been with me through all this and always helps me and I'm just very grateful that he chose me to be in this position," Bjerga said. "I'm told by the coaches that I am a leader on the court and as the setter, I have to be a leader. I feel like when I'm down the team gets down too and I feel like I can bring a lot of energy to the court."

As a sophomore, Bjerga collected 332 set assists, 148 digs, 12 kills and a block to go with a 97.5 serving percentage with 26 ace serves.

"Our passing has always been a little bit of a weak spot and it's getting better, but she can make a great set out of a pretty weak pass," Gretchen Bestland said. "For us last year, she made the jump from C team to varsity. She skipped over junior varsity and was our 5-1 as a sophomore. She just worked really hard at it. She played in the CLC Junior Olympics (league) in the winter. She's all in on wanting to be a great setter."

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With improved passing from her teammates, expect Bjerga's numbers from last year to improve. She's still serving at a 97-percent clip with 14 ace serves through 13 matches.

She's tallied 244 set assists, 84 digs, 16 kills and one block.

"The one thing for her, now that our passing is getting a little better, we preach all the time that we need to start running a faster offense," Bestland said. "It's coming, but it's not quite proficient enough where they feel like they can do it in a game. That's one thing we really want to key on with her."

 

Other notable performances:

Soccer: Marre Welinski, Little Falls, scored three goals against Melrose.

Volleyball: Kerstin Knopik, Little Falls, finished with 18 kills, three blocks, three digs and two ace serves against Zimmerman.

Ashley Adams, Wadena-Deer Creek, finished with 24 set assists, 13 digs, 11 kills, two ace serves and one block against Verndale.

Aubrey Brandt, Staples-Motley, finished with 27 digs, 14 kills and eight ace serves at the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Tournament.

Jordyn VanVickle, Pillager, finished with 21 digs, 20 kills and 10 ace serves at the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley Tournament.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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