“Fun” is the word for the Central Lakes College Raiders for this weekend’s NJCAA National Tournament.

Midway through the season, the team asked head coach Jane Peterson for a different focus. The new one worked.

“During competition, fun will happen if we focus on the present moment, not the big picture,” Peterson said. “Fun will happen if we focus on the team not our own mistake or individual play. Volleyball is such a team sport. That's what's fun about it. I made an assumption at the beginning of the season that we should be aiming for a big goal, because we have the talent to aim big. This team asked for a different focus and we changed our goal to one point at a time, one set at a time, one match at a time. The fun will come in playing together with positive energy for each other.”

First round play starts Thursday, Nov 14. No. 5 seeded Central Lakes will face No. 12 Raritan Valley at noon. The winner faces No. 4 Brookhaven at 4 p.m. Two wins Thursday and Central Lakes’ would be in the championship semifinals with a potential matchup against No. 1 Owens -- last year’s national champion.

“The committee takes into consideration record, head-to-head competition (we lost to RCTC in August and beat Harper in early September), strength of schedule, and strength of region finish in past years,” Peterson said. “I like our No. 5 seed. This team has been good about focusing on one thing at a time. So we definitely have not looked beyond our first match.

“Having that first early match against the No. 12 seed can really work for us to calm the nerves in a match that hopefully won't be quite as competitive as the rest of them. I've been hoping that we get a chance to play against Owens since last year at this time. I would love for this team to have that challenge.”

The Raiders average 11.83 kills per set. Sydney Berg is the top hitter with 3.33 kills, followed by Maggi Fellerman with 2.44 and Nicole Kortan with 2.47. Rochester’s Carrie Rutledge leads the nation in hitting with 4.91. Fellerman and Haley Schleper collect just under one block per set.

Hailey Tihlarik leads CLC with 50 ace serves. Kylie Porter totaled 48. Central Lakes averages 2.69 aces per game. Tihlarik is the leader of the back row with 445 digs.

A win over Owens Friday could bring a championship matchup against No. 2 Rochester Saturday, Nov. 16. The two teams faced each other in late August in the Crossover Tournament.

“We did play Rochester the very first day of our competitive season and lost 0-3,” Peterson said. “We are a completely different team and they have the same players in about the same positions. I watched RCTC play just a couple of weeks ago. They just don't make too many mistakes, but are not unstoppable.

“Our sophomore experience and leadership should be a really valuable asset. But our first-year players are experienced players. They’ve played in many gyms across the state in and out of their high school and club seasons. I feel like this team is really prepared to play their best this week. Our practices have been good, our mood light hearted. We have had a lot of fun together.”



NJCAA National Tournament

What: Division III National Volleyball Tournament

Who: No. 5 seeded Central Lakes College Raiders vs. No. 12 Raritan Valley

When: Noon, Thursday, Nov. 14

Where: Rochester Regional Sports Center, Rochester, Minn.