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Volleyball: Irish split with talented opponents

After the Rosemount volleyball team attended the Southwest Minnesota State team camp in July, head coach Smokey Vitek talked about 2012 being a potential breakthrough season for an Irish program that has hovered within a couple games of the .500 mark for most of the last four seasons.

If the first two matches of the season are any indication, Vitek may be onto something. The team got strong play from its nucleus of returning players and contributions from a wealth of talented newcomers as it split a pair of 3-1 road matches, one with a Faribault team that was 25-5-1 last year, and one with a Hutchinson squad that went 26-5 and reached the Class 3A state semifinals last fall.

"We had a very strong opening week. The team has really been working hard to change our program culture and refine our approach to the game. I saw the progress in both matches," she said. "I like our overall drive and energy on the court. The girls are really focusing on our team energy on the court and in both matches we played as a team, leveraged our strengths, and adjusted to our competitors."

The Irish started strong in last Tuesday's opener at Faribault, winning Game 1 25-14 before dropping the next game, 25-23. Faribault took the lead early in Game 3, but Rosemount rallied to win the last two going away, 25-19 and 25-23. Returning outside hitter Katie Duff put the match away with three straight kills in Game 4.

Duff posted a kill percentage of 29 percent, Brittany McLean found the floor with 33 percent of her spikes and Erin Slinde checked in at 19 percent. Meghan Schuster added five kills and four blocks.

Kim Correll hoisted up 23 set assists and Keturah Marxhausen added 12.

Brittany Morrison stepped in for her first varsity start at libero and provided a team-leading 13 digs.

The Irish made the long bus ride to Hutchinson last Thursday and kept all four games close while falling 17-25, 25-23, 19-25 and 20-25.

"Hutchinson is a strong team and we knew they would be a good test for us. They definitely challenged us more than Faribault with a faster offense," Vitek said. "At times we played with them and outplayed them. However, we had a few segments of the match where we lost our confidence and focus. That gave Hutchinson the edge and against a strong opponent we cannot do that."

Duff and McLean led the attack with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Correll had 13 assists and Slinde 12 and Morrison once again led the way with 14 digs.

The Irish played their home opener Tuesday against New Prague and are back at Irish Gym tonight to take on Roseville. The South Suburban Conference season begins Tuesday at Bloomington Jefferson.