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Volleyball: No shortage of talent for Irish

Brittany McLean is a returning all-conference player for the Rosemount volleyball team after setting a school record with 358 kills last season.

Last fall, the Rosemount volleyball team won 22 games and had what was, by all accounts, its best season in the last 20 years.

And with seven of its top contributors back this season — including four players who earned all-South Suburban honors — expectations are once again high for head coach Smokey Vitek’s squad.

“Hopefully we’ll exceed (22 wins). We have a lot of returning players and some strong younger players coming up, so we should have a good season,” said Vitek, who will run out what she considers the most talented roster she’s had since taking over the program.

Heading up the Irish’s list of talented returners are a pair of first-team all-conference selections, Brittany McLean and Erin Slinde. McLean was named team MVP last season when she set a new school record with 358 kills from her outside hitter position and Slinde contributed all over the court while sharing setting duties with graduated senior Maddie Phyle.

Both McLean and Slinde continued to hone their games in the off-season, playing together on a 16-under Northern Lights team that competed in tournaments all over the country. Last month, the Northern Lights traveled to Croatia for the Global Challenge Tournament and won the championship as both McLean and Slinde were named to the all-tournament team.

While McLean’s role as the Irish’s front-row finisher will remain the same, Slinde will shift to playing the setter position full-time this season.

“This year we’re looking for Slinde to play all the way around. She’s worked really hard in the off-season to become one of the state’s top setters,” Vitek said. “She’s really going to be key for us in running our offense.”

Filling out the Irish’s list of front-row returners are Katie Kalinowski, middle blocker Justin Buckmister, an honorable mention all-conference honoree after providing 67 blocks last season, and middle blocker Ellie Vraa (68 blocks), who will work her way back into the lineup slowly after sustaining off-season injuries.

“I think we’re looking for both (Buckmister and Vraa) to contribute a little bit more on the offensive side to round us out a little bit more,” Vitek said. “When we’re more effective in the middle it opens things up for us on the outside. When they’re getting their kills it forces opponents to make sure they’re blocking them, and it opens up 1-on-1 situations on the outside.”

The Irish’s athletic front row will be backed by an array of defensive specialists who will compete for varsity time. Returning to the lineup will be honorable mention all-conference pick Brittany Morrison, who led the team with 402 digs last season. Letter-winners Anna Selchow, Abby Nelson and Katie Lienemann are also back in the fold.

“From a defensive perspective, there are a lot of strong candidates coming in,” Vitek said.

Among the Irish’s defensive prospects are Morgan Longhenry and Mari Hinkle. Alyssa Ottman, a JV middle last year, is also among those Vitek expects to be in the running for varsity time.

“We’ve got a strong incoming freshman class and a 10th grade class that has worked very hard in the off-season,” she said. “They could very easily earn some varsity spots, as well.”

The Irish open the season at home Sept. 9 against Prior Lake.