Progress was vast for Detroit Lakes volleyball
It was a season of night and day for the Detroit Lakes volleyball team, as the Lakers entered the season in the dark, but finishing it on more than a bright note.
Starting the 2009 schedule with basically very little experience, the Lakers climbed the ladder of progression to ultimately vault themselves to a 12-10 final record after a 1-4 start to the season.
But to say the Lakers have reached their ceiling would be inaccurate, since next season they return the majority of their team, coming off one of their best seasons in a while.
"From the first game to the last, there was a steady line of improvement," said DL head coach Beth Leighton. "This was a group of kids who took their athletic ability and used it and they played smart matches."
The Lakers didn't play comfortable to start the season, either.
Many of the players had to play different positions from what they were used to and by midseason, all were playing -- and accepting -- their roles willingly.
"They put the team needs over their individual needs," Leighton said. "And they executed them very well."
The switch up was from the net and back.
As the season progressed, the frontline of junior Carrie Sorensen, senior Ashlyn Jasken, sophomore Kayli Muckenhirn and senior Bethany Stoltenburg started giving DL a potent offensive attack.
Quarterbacking the offense was junior Rachel Shane, along with sophomore Courtney Hedstrom, while the back row and defensive specialist was sophomore Makenzie Gedrose.
The Lakers gained a spark at the net with the return of junior Jen Matter, while solid depth was created by freshman Emma Wood, junior Savannah Fritz and junior Melody Peterson.
"We had good depth in the back row and we were able to give some of our hitters a rest through the match, which was nice," Leighton said. "Courtney Hedstrom also came up with some big points at the serving line and (freshman) Karli Kerzman was big at the net for us."
With a 3-1 record compiled in the Mound-Westonka Tournament Sept. 12, the Lakers started building some confidence.
That in turn led to a more aggressive style of play, which eventually led to the Lakers building a winning record in the second half of the season.
A highlight was also created with DL's amazing comeback over East Grand Forks Sept. 29, where the Lakers rallied back from a 2-0 hole.
"The girls started playing harder and more aggressive, they were swinging harder, serving more aggressive and their unforced errors were fewer and fewer," Leighton said.
Jasken and Sorensen became strong forces at the net, leading the team in kills in the majority of games.
"Ashlyn's biggest strength was that she came hard at the net every time," Leighton said. "Then on defense, players like Makenzie Gedrose were seeing the (opposing) hitters better and with her quickness, (she) was able to cover up to two-thirds of the back. The blockers also did well, so it was nice not having to always be digging for balls."
Although there were only two seniors on the team, Jasken and Stoltenburg each made big contributions for the team.
"In my 16 years of coaching, I've been blessed with many great kids," Leighton said. "But it's been unique with Ashlyn and Bethany. They both became such strong athletes and they were great leaders and had the right mentality all the time."
Next season, inexperience will not be a factor, as the team returns the majority of its frontline and back row.
Sorensen and Muckenhirn both were consistent players at the net, and Shane returns with the bulk of assists on the team.
There will be no starting from scratch as the Lakers look to be entering next season with confidence, which started blossoming around midseason this year.
"With experience, so goes the confidence," Leighton said. "The girls realize what they are capable of doing. They continue to raise the bar and are preparing to play championship-level volleyball.
"Our strong finish leaves a good, positive thought and adds a little bit of more excitement, but they also know the area of where they need improvement over the offseason."
Leighton was also appreciative of the players and her assistant coaches (Mike Summers, Jessica Stuewe, Genna VanHavermaet, Lynnsey Wimmer and Carl Oberholtzer) while she and husband, Jeff, were going through the process of adopting their son.
"It was a unique season and I'm grateful for the support from the coaches and players," Leighton said. "It was a season full of incredible life lessons."