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State contending Honkers are different team each year

Celebrate the Honkers’ Region 6 volleyball title. Wish them well in the opening round of the Class B state tournament in Fargo Thursday night, when they face Linton. Just don’t say anything about going back to State for the sixth year in a row, unless you want a polite earful from one of the Honkers.

11/16/11 (Wed)


Region Championship action . . . Honkers Katie Nelson, Shelby Hass, Caleen Crider and Lexie Munson surround hitter Ashley Barnhart just
in case the Stars' block by Whitney Page and Danielle McCloud
sends the ball back across the net.

 

Over half the starters haven’t been on the State court

 

Celebrate the Honkers’ Region 6 volleyball title.

 

Wish them well in the opening round of the Class B state tournament in Fargo Thursday night, when they face Linton.

 

Just don’t say anything about going back to State for the sixth year in a row, unless you want a polite earful from one of the Honkers.

 

“When people say we’re going back to State, they don’t realize it’s a different team every year,” explained junior hitter Shelby Hass.

 

“Three years ago, we lost our two middle hitters,” added junior setter Lexie Munson. “Two years ago, it was our back row and after last year, it was [middle hitter] Katie King. We always feel like we have to prove something.”

 

Senior defensive specialist Caleen Crider, who is responsible for picking up every tip and short ball that lands in the “crater territory” of the back court, will start her first state tournament game this week. “Over half our starters haven’t been on the state court,” she said. “It’s a new team this year.”

 

“We don’t have a returning varsity team,” said senior hitter Halie Nelson, explaining that the current Region 6 champions had to start fresh and learn to work together this season.

 

Sisters play side-by-side

Halie should know. Not only did she have to get comfortable with a new mix of players, one of those newcomers is younger sister Katie, a sophomore who stands directly next to her in the rotation.

 

The two athletes are often seen conferring at the net during games, and during Thursday’s regional championship match against Bottineau, their conversation never stopped. “I yell at her a lot,” Halie confessed. “I vent, but she doesn’t care. We have good communication.”

 

Katie laughed. “We have twin telepathy,” she said. “She bosses me around, but she knows what she’s doing.”

 

“Well, she showed me up tonight,” answered Halie.

 

Actually, the tally was nearly even, with 15 kills for Halie and 14 for Katie.

 

Katie Nelson said she knew she had to step up her game for the occasion, especially with the Stars’ focus on triple-blocking Halie. “I kept looking for a spot to hit around the block,” she said.

 

“She just jumps and prays it’s going to go in,” said Halie, grinning. “And I have to yell at her to dive for the ball in the back row.”

 

Then she turned serious. “If I had to pick anyone in the world to play next to, I’d pick her,” she said, nodding at her sister.

 

“Aww, it’s cool to get to the state tournament and it’s even cooler with Halie,” answered Katie.

 

Honkers perform with heart,

know they’re a target

The Honkers head coach agreed with his players about the composition of the team and the exciting fact that this group qualified for the state tournament, despite heights ranging from 5’3” to 5’7”. “I know I’m the same old coach,” he said, “but it’s not the same team. Some of these girls haven’t played in a regional championship game before.”

 

That said, after the first set, the Honkers played like champions. “The girls did some nice things tonight,” said Wallstrum. “Lexie [Munson] carries the ball for us. She made a few errors in the beginning then she got on track. Where Lexie goes, the team goes.”

 

He praised Hass for following the game plan and drawing the Stars’ effective block out to the sides as she pounded kills from the outside. “You notice that No. 7 [Katryna Hahn] didn’t score much,” Wallstrum said, adding that the plan also reduced the number of kills for senior All-State hitter Whitney Page. “We didn’t want to let them set balls up very much for those hitters, or to set the middle.”

 

He noted Katie Nelson’s performance. “She had to force the block to stay with her sometimes,” he said, “and she can hit! Sometimes I have to get after her, but sometimes she crushes the ball.”

 

He also had good words about the team’s lone freshman, who happens to be his daughter Beca. “She came through for us a few times,” he said, referring to a kill that proved to be one turning point for Kenmare, as well as a tip that surprised the Stars’ front row and boosted the Honkers’ score.

 

Despite the challenge from a skilled, motivated and athletic Bottineau squad and the loss of the first game, the Honkers came through for each other. “That second game was all heart,” said Wallstrum. “Ashley Barnhart said to us, ‘I don’t lose,’ and once we got ahead, we played aggressively.”

 

Barnhart just grinned as she talked about the tournament’s outcome. “I didn’t not want to go to [the state tournament] my senior year,” she said. “I remember my first time at the state tournament. It was in Jamestown and I didn’t play, but I was excited!”

 

The Honkers realize they wear a virtual target painted across their shoulders. Every team wants to knock them down, and during weekend tournaments this season, they have endured a few losses, mostly because one team member or another had to be absent for another commitment.

 

The full team will play in full force at the 2011 State B Volleyball tournament this week.

 

“We’re short but mighty,” Hass said, “and we have something to prove.”

 

Munson shrugged aside the fact that other teams would come expecting to defeat the short Honker squad. “We’re used to that,” she said. “It’s our motivation to win.”