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Rebels ready to begin the season

By Staff | Oct 11, 2020

The United South Central volleyball team has been hard at practice since learning they will be having a season this fall. The team is pictured above, front row, left to right, Grace Mithun, Dani Kirkeide, Sam Swanson, Melany Ehlert and Kendal Harpestad. Back row, left to right, are Hannah Olson, Kylie Niebuhr, Izzy O’Rourke, Josie Schumann, Kiera Schultz and Leah Winch. Not pictured: Kyllah Curry.

“It is certainly a different year,” United South Central head girls volleyball coach Joe Kuechenmeister says. “We went from not having volleyball this fall, to having it, just like that.”

The sudden reversal of the State High School League reinstating volleyball for this fall gives teams some challenges.

“We started practices on Sept. 28,” Kuechenmeister says. “But our practices were somewhat unique. We have been doing them at 6 a.m. for the past week and a half.”

The reason is that several of the team’s players went out for tennis and cross country this fall since there was not going to be volleyball until next spring.

“The kids have all adapted well and are doing a good job of handling it,” the coach says. “So it is not a setback at all.”

The team has very good numbers this year according to Kuechenmeister.

“We have 42 girls out this year six seniors and one senior manager, 10 juniors, six sophomores and 19 freshmen,” he says. “So the numbers are great. And a lot of the kids love the game and have put in a lot of time in the off season to help improve our team.”

Last year the Rebels finished with a 7-18 record. However, the record does not really correlate to how good the Rebels were and will be this season.

“We play in a tough conference,” Kuechenmeister explains. “WEM (Waterville-Elysian-Morristown) is the defending state champion. Medford took third in state. Faribault BA (Bethlehem Academy) has won multiple state titles. And Hayfield is also a very solid team.”

This year, with a shortened season that will include only playing conference foes, it will be “tough sledding” according to the Rebels mentor.

“But we look on this as an opportunity, too,” Kuechenmeister says. “That’s because we will always be facing a high level of competition on a regular basis and we will always have to be ready to play our best.”

While it will be tougher with no nonconference matches, the coach says he and the team are excited just to be able to start playing and competing again.

“We are ready to step out on the floor and make some noise,” Kuechenmeister says. “And with no fans in the stands, that will be a challenge, too. Our fans have been a great source of momentum for our team in the past, but now we will just have to muster energy on our own.”

(Update – After this interview the state high school league is now going to allow each player to have two tickets to hand out for each volleyball game.)

The coach says all six of the seniors on the team are fantastic players with several multiple years of varsity floor action under their belts, due to holes in the lineups in the past.

Kuechenmeister says he cannot choose one over any of the others, as all are great team leaders.

That includes Dani Kirkeide who will be the libero this year. Josie Schumann is a middle hitter, as is Izzy O’Rourke. Hannah Olson is a setter/defensive specialist. Kylie Niebuhr is an outside hitter. Lydia Niebuhr is a senior who is new to the team this year. And Jessi Kegg is the senior manager.

Other members who are expected to help the team include Melany Ehlert, a junior outside hitter who has started at varsity in the past since she was a freshman.

Junior Sam Swanson will also be a setter for the team.

“She was a right side hitter for us last year,” the coach notes. “But in the off season her JO volleyball team switched her to be a setter. This will provide our team with a nice dynamic.”

There are also a couple of freshmen who are expected to be vying for some varsity playing time Kiera Schultz, a right side hitter, and Kyllah Curry, an outside hitter.

“We have a nice combination of veterans and young talent on the team,” coach Kuechenmeister says. “We are excited for the quality product we are going to have on the floor night to night.”

Kuechenmeister has been the head varsity coach for the last five years. He is assisted by JV assistant coach Kara Christianson and ninth grade assistant coach Margo Latusek.