Tomahawk Conference loaded with talent, potential

During the past three seasons, it seems as though volleyball in the New Ulm area has somewhat taken a backseat to sports like girl’s basketball and softball.

There were still those dominant teams, of course. But it still felt as though the sport as a whole had fallen short compared to the many good teams we have in the other two sports.

However, this year is different.

The Tomahawk Conference boasts at least five teams in the conference title race and five teams with at least 10 wins on the season thus far. This has created some exciting matches that have an air and atmosphere about them that may have not been present in the recent past.

The first-place team is none other than Cedar Mountain/Comfrey, which has only gotten better since coach Beth Hill took over two years ago.

The Cougars (13-1, 6-0 Tomahawk) have won 10-straight matches – including seven-straight sweeps – with a core of well-rounded players such as middle Paige Richert, setter Abby Jemmings and libero Lauren Boyle. This is a big turnaround for a team that won just one match three years ago when the current seniors were freshmen.

“We always set our goals pretty high; we knew we could always [compete in the conference], but we just needed to do it,” Boyle said.

Right now, CM/C controls its destiny in the conference race. If it can win its upcoming matches against Springfield and Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s, it will win the Tomahawk Conference title outright for the first time ever in its co-op.

St. Mary’s (15-6, 3-2) has been a legitimate contender under coach Jen Walter. The Knights have always had decent teams in the past, but this season feels a little different for one big reason.

“Our team chemistry is probably the best that I’ve ever been a part of,” Walter said. “These girls are really there for each other and they like to see each other succeed and they’re all there to pick each other up when there are mistakes. I think that really is the tipping point for us this year.”

The Knights are led by junior and three-year starting setter Jody Hansen, as well as hard-hitting seniors Anna Lux, Megan Ziegler and Lydia Goblirsch.

Springfield (13-6, 5-1) is working toward winning a conference title since winning it outright in 2012. It boasts hard hitters Vishe’ Rabb, Alyssa Streich and Kenna Wahl as well as setter Callie Wersal to drive everything forward.

First-year coach Michelle Adrian inherited a group that she used to coach on B-squad two years ago and the experience her players have has been one driving factor.

“Our girls have really worked hard to stay positive,” Adrian said. “The senior leadership helps and the fact that the girls are all friends helps. They’ve been showing up and working really hard and the experience that they have helps a lot.”

Wabasso (17-6, 4-1) remains in the hunt with wins against Springfield and St. Mary’s this season. One of the most consistent teams in the Tomahawk Conference, Wabasso has won a share of the conference title for the past three years and will be vying for a return trip to the Section 3A finals.

Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (8-6, 4-2) is far from out of contention, having won a share of the conference title for the past three seasons with Wabasso. It has an impressive five-set victory against St. Clair this year and has plenty of experienced hitters under first-year coach Steph Rodning.

Last but not least, New Ulm Cathedral (12-10, 1-5) may not be in contention for the conference title but at least deserves some recognition for surpassing 10 wins this season. The Greyhounds are scrappy and can surprise you when you least expect it.

The section playoffs will be no easy task for any of these teams with the frontrunners from each subsection – Mayer Lutheran in 2A North, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown and St. Clair in 2A South and MACCRAY and Minneota in 3A North.

But if there is any batch of teams that has a chance to surprise some folks in the postseason, it is probably this batch of teams.