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“We got to finish with two wins and I thought we finished right where we should,” KHS head volleyball coach Tim Wallstrum said about the Honkers’ fifth place plaque from the 2011 Class B state tournament. “It’s tough to win at that level without height, although our girls have been doing it all year long.”
He paused and smiled. “My girls don’t know they’re short.”
While the seven other teams in the tournament listed players at 5’5” or shorter, every one of them also included players standing from 5’10” to 6’2”, while Kenmare’s height topped out at 5’7”. “The Central Cass libero was taller than anyone we have on our team,” Wallstrum said, referring to the 5’9” senior Haley Weber.
The Honkers’ height issue was no surprise to Wallstrum, and he knew at the start of the season he would have fill the roles of four departing players, including skilled ball handlers and one of the best hitters in the state last year in Katie King.
So he and assistant coach Faye Alexander started with the addition of sophomore Katie Nelson. “We knew she could step up and play hard,” Wallstrum said. “Then we knew we had Halie Nelson and Ashley Barnhart coming back, and we were hoping Shelby Hass would step up. We thought we would get blocked a lot this year, and we did.”
However, those four hitters kept swinging and scored on plenty of kills this season.
Wallstrum was also concerned about handling the right side, so he put senior Caleen Crider as a defensive specialist behind freshman Beca Wallstrum as a blocker. “I was worried about that,” said Coach Wallstrum, referring to Beca Wallstrum’s inexperience and the fact she is his daughter, “but together they filled that hole and made a great player.”
He predicted Our Redeemer’s and Bottineau, with key hitters Ashley Koppinger and Whitney Page, respectively, would challenge Kenmare. He also named Lewis & Clark’s McKenzi Njos as one of the District 12 “terminators,” those players who hit unstoppable kills on a regular basis. “But they weren’t all on the same team,” Wallstrum said.
And after Kenmare defeated
In fact, the Honkers were excited about seeing Linton-HMB again in state quarterfinals after narrowly losing to the Lions in the Coal Country Tournament in August. “I knew how good Linton was, but we fought against them very hard,” Wallstrum said. “The girls will say they should have beat Linton.”
Kenmare did go on to face down Beulah and Hatton-Northwood, losing the first set in each match according to post-season habit and fighting against the block all the way, posting scores of unstoppable kills as setter Lexie Munson ran her team and called the offense, using every hitter in the Honkers’ arsenal.
Wallstrum reported the Hatton-Northwood coach as a bit surprised with the Honkers’ fierce play. “The coach told me, ‘Your little Number 10 just killed us,’” Wallstrum said.
That “little Number 10” was Halie Nelson and her 21 kills in the fifth-place match that ended in four games instead of the five everybody expected.
On Monday, Wallstrum was still shaking his head over the contest with the Thunder, after Kenmare rallied from a 19-24 deficit to win 26-24 and take the match. “[The Honkers] hadn’t gone to a fifth set all year, so we talked about expending their energy now rather than later,” he said.
Even so, he and Alexander were already planning for the fifth set when Hass stepped back to serve and fired one of her strongest efforts of the match, rather than playing it safe with a soft lob. “She didn’t give them an easy serve,” Wallstrum said, “and in that situation, it’s very easy to miss a serve.”
As Wallstrum and Alexander watched, and guided the Honkers through two time-outs, Hass kept making her serves and the rest of the Honkers kept running a strong offense until the win was sealed.
“Faye and I were thinking, ‘Just get it over the net,’ and the rest of the team was cheering
Wallstrum shook his head again. “I’m proud of the girls,” he said. “They just want to win every match. On the last day of the tournament, when the girls are beat up and bruised, when it’s tough to play, you put a volleyball on the floor and they want to win.”