For the Central Lakes College volleyball team, opening weekends can be tough, but the experience can pay off in the long run.
That is the case for the current Raiders team as they defeated Northland Community College 3-0 Wednesday, Sept. 8, to win their sixth game in a row.
This from a team who started the season 0-4 after a weekend sweep in Rockford, Illinois. But head coach Jane Peterson has always scheduled tough competition for opening weekend and she added something extra this year.
“The day before we left for the first weekend we rearranged the lineup and had one day to practice with it which is what we are doing now,” Peterson said. “There was a lot of learning that weekend and against good teams. We got better at a lot of things and saw good competition.”
First-year middle hitter Megan Rinicker was one of the many players whose game has improved since opening weekend and she showed her skills with 13 kills and two digs in the win. The Henning native, who is in the nursing program, was an All-State player last year and she talked about the change in the team since the opening weekend.
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“We definitely had a learning experience at the tournament in Illinois, with some tough team members,” she said. “But we came back and worked hard in practice to improve ourselves in every aspect of the game. Our passing got better and that has improved our game.”
Sophomore Haley Schleper tallied 11 kills , two ace serves and 15 digs and Peterson was quick to credit both Schleper and Sarah Bennett for their leadership of the team.
“Megan has a great advantage in that she has Haley Schleper to look up to and to guide her,” Peterson said. “Both Haley and Sarah (Bennett) have done a great job of leading this team. When you look at us and it looks like we are having fun that is because of Haley and Sarah. They put a lot of time in the last two years when they didn’t get a chance to play so I give them a lot of credit for people looking good.”
Bennett contributed 10 digs along with two set assists. Grace Peabody tipped 35 assists. The Raiders also had a huge night at the net with Schleper leading the team with a hitting percentage of .589 and Jaime Johnson close behind her at .529.
Rinicker finished at .478 as the Raiders put pressure on the Pioneer defenders all night with 44 kills in just three sets.
The Raiders won the first game 25-19 and the second 25-14. Northland didn’t quit in Game Three as they got out to a 10-7 lead before the Raiders came back and scored five of the six final points to secure the win. Since their opening weekend, the Raiders have lost just one set in their last six wins.
One of the things that excites Peterson the most is the Raiders attacking style with Rinicker, Johnson and Schleper leading the way.
“Megan was an All-State player so she is plenty good but she is being asked to do different things. She is one of those players who isn’t afraid to go after the ball. She will swing and miss and say, “oh well”, and swing hard again,” Peterson said. “We could communicate better but we are generally not roaming around and we have some aggressive players who want the ball and they will go and get it if it’s not perfect and that is super exciting to have people who are gamers and not afraid to be aggressive.”