Fargo North volleyball enjoying stellar start to season
The Spartans are hoping this is the year they get back to the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2011
FARGO — The Fargo North volleyball team's last Eastern Dakota Conference regular-season championship came in 2000, the same year it won its last state championship.
The Spartans' last appearance in the Class A state tournament was 2011.
Their last winning season prior to 2021 was 2016. That was before head coach Rachel Hummel took over the program last year, and the Spartans have enjoyed a plethora of success since then.
North is off to a strong start in 2022, with records of 14-1 overall and 7-1 in the EDC after a three-set sweep of Valley City on Tuesday.
North visits EDC leader and No. 1-ranked West Fargo Sheyenne (14-0, 9-0 EDC) on Thursday, Sept. 22, with first serve set for 7 p.m.
Despite not returning a single all-conference player, the No. 3-ranked Spartans are aiming to build off of their 21-13 campaign from last year in which they came up just short of qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in 21 years.
The Spartans rattled off 11 straight wins to begin the season — including the first six in straight sets — before falling to West Fargo last week.
"I think as a coach, it's easier for us to have the perspective of not just the 11-0 record," Hummel said. "I can see that we're showing growth in different areas of the game, chemistry, confidence and overall mindset. For kids, I think it can be challenging and they needed to feel some pressure. At some point, someone is going to lose — so it's kind of nice that it's just out in the air, it's done and now we can move forward from it for the kids' sake and just focus on game by game."
Hummel said maintaining the balance between fun and competition has helped shape the team's chemistry.
"I think we had a great summer," Hummel said. "A good balance between enjoying it and still getting in the gym and improving our basic skills. We've had a lot of buy-in these last two years here since I've been head coach, and just seeing a lot more trust between the kids and coaches — I think it's showing that they're really committed to this and what we're trying to do and keeping end goals in mind.
"Talent-wise, we're maybe more spread out across the board this year, which helps. There's not one strong person we're relying on. It's definitely a team effort and with that comes some chemistry, too, so that's a positive."
Emily Skalicky was North's only all-EDC player last season. With the Spartans losing their star setter to graduation, many others have stepped up.
Seniors Reagan Carlson and Haidyn Tollefson are two outside hitters who have combined for 142 kills as of Sept. 13.
"They're back again and they've had a strong start to this season," Hummel said of the outside duo. "We have a couple of new middles that have stepped up — Anna Nelson is a junior and Audrey Rydell is a freshman who we were able to bring up and get in this summer to practice with us quite a bit, so it's been fun having some new faces.
Rydell is second on the team in kills with 67 and also has 8.5 blocks as of Sept. 13. Nelson leads the team with nine blocks.
Junior Betsy Schiltz brings returning experience as a setter and has 17 ace serves and 270 assists this season. Junior Evy Berg takes on the role of libero and leads the Spartans with 33 aces and 200 digs.
"(Schiltz) got some experience last year," Hummel said. "So having that varsity court experience as a setter and transferring it over to this year as a leader has really helped her a lot. She's kind of the main leader in that setter role. (Berg) just brings a great 'go get it' attitude and is willing to put the team first always. ... It just seems we're a cohesive group on the same page working towards the same goals."
Asked if the players have fully bought into her system over the last two years, Hummel said probably not — which she finds to be beneficial.
"I think it's a work in progress," Hummel said. "I don't know if there will be a full season where kids are bought in. I think it just depends on the day. But I do think we have a stronger base and it's starting to show with team chemistry and attitudes, and just being in a good mindset and being mentally tough.
North also has a recent memory to use for motivation. The Spartans fell to Fargo Davies in one of last year's state tournament play-in games.
"I think that sticks in all of our kids' minds," Hummel said. "But in a good way. It's something that lights a fire inside of us because we've come so far and have seen a lot of success that North hasn't seen for a long time in volleyball. So I think last year, everybody was just thankful we had a great season and it was a lot of fun and we had a lot of success. Just to come so close and even have that opportunity was awesome, so we're hoping to give ourselves a chance again this year with that and see where it takes us."
Before the Spartans need to worry about the postseason, however, the regular-season slate is still in full swing.
"We want to be playing our best when it matters the most," Hummel said. "But in order to do that, little steps are important. Our focus has been and I think it will continue to be just take things one game at a time, one step at a time and to not overlook any team."