The Como Park Senior High School girls’ volleyball team has returned to the court for the 2014 season with high expectations. After going undefeated in the St. Paul City Conference last season, the team is embracing the challenge and enjoying the work of defending the city championship.
The 2013 win was the Cougars’ first since 1994, but that championship gap can be misleading. Como has historically produced competitive teams, including second-place conference finishes in 2011 and 2012. Last season’s jump to the top spot now serves as a motivator to put in the work again.
Second-year head coach Kim Smisek pointed out that she has a committed core of returning players who are leading the charge. Seven of the varsity team’s 10 full-time players are back with experience. Leadership is evident at many levels on the team but is spearheaded by senior captain Jenna Krivit and junior captains Bekah Hausman and Delilah Wolf.
Krivit is a middle blocker while Hausman and Wolf are both setters. Collectively the captains make up half of the starting line-up, but Smisek was quick to add they bring much more to the team than just athletic talents of passing, setting and hitting.
“They each bring a level of intensity that any coach would long for,” Smisek said. “They are our definite leaders both on and off the court.”
Other key players to watch for are junior Emily LaCroix-Dalluhn as a middle blocker and junior Olivia Berven who is an outside hitter/defensive specialist. “These players are both incredibly talented all-around, and they play smart volleyball,” said Smisek.
The varsity roster also features returning letter-winners Sinead O’Duffy, a junior who starts as the libero (defensive specialist), and sophomore Elianna Wiersma. Newcomers to the varsity team this season include senior Day Day Naw and sophomores Rachel Love and Desha Lynch, all of whom excelled on the junior varsity team a year ago.
Smisek admitted being tough on her team, pushing them to maximize their opportunity this season, and, Krivit added, “not waste the potential we have.” With additional leadership from assistant coach Ashley Jones, who has been with the program for three years and is described as the “chill coach” by Hausman, the girls were on the right path to repeating the conference championship as of press time.
Under coaching styles that Smisek said, “balance each other out quite nicely” the team started practicing Aug. 11. A month into the season they had an overall record of 4 wins and 3 losses that included close matches against top level nonconference competition, but were undefeated in the conference with wins over Central, Washington and Humboldt.
Wolf suggested that the team is aware of the need to win other upcoming nonconference matches in addition to the conference contests “to improve our seeding for the section tournament and advance to a further level.”
This team is aware of the big picture, but they are focused on what’s in front of them and having fun representing their school community.
At a recent home match on Como’s newly refurbished gym floor, the bleachers were scattered with Como parents and loyal, energetic student fans who cheered for every Como point and supported the girls with shouts of encouragement. Asked about the Como fans, Krivit said, “It feels good to have the support of our friends.”
With hard-working talent, driven leadership and moral support on their side, the Como volleyball team is setting up another special season.
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Park Senior High School. He has coached a variety of school and youth sports teams in St. Paul over the last 20 years.