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New coach confident Panthers can turn around fortunes in 2013

One aspect of the game of volleyball Nicole VandenBerg truly enjoys is its unique feature of aiming directly at someone as its object. Few other sports besides dodgeball can make that claim.

Yet VandenBerg knows the thrill which comes from a smashing spike has to be tempered with a level-headed ability to handle one’s emotions in order to make sure the object of the game is fulfilled: to win.   This will be the mentality the VandenBerg will try to install in the Ellsworth High School volleyball team this fall in her first season as head coach.

“The basic challenge in volleyball is to keep your emotions in check,” VandenBerg said “Level-headedness is what wins games and we talked together as a team about having the right attitude to play. You score a point, you get ready to win the next play. You lose a point, you fix what’s wrong and get ready for the next play. Your focus can only be on what’s next.”

A team with five returning letter winners, including All-MBC setter Olivia Helmer, and 10 seniors one would think would be mature enough to handle their emotions. But the Panthers went 9-19 last season, 3-4 in the Middle Border Conference, and saw many a close match slip from the their grasp, which only led to the wrong but inevitable emotion of frustration.

“They’re strengths and weaknesses as players are easy to identify from a coaching perspective,” VandenBerg, who coached at Prairie Farm last season, said. “But what’s important is their willingness to identify the same strengths and weaknesses as well and having a strong desire to improve, which is huge.”

EHS graduated All-MBC player Kenzie Diercks along with Riley Harrison, Emily Wilbur and Morgan Christopherson from last season’s squad.  Ellsworth returns setters such as Helmer and fellow senior letter winner Megan Schroeder along with senior letter winners Tacia Kuhl and Katelyn Kannel to play in the middle.  Returning starter senior Chelsy Strom along with junior Ellie Miller will be on the outside.  The Panthers began the season still looking for a libero.

“That is a position we’re going to need the most improvement along with our passing,” VandenBerg said.  “We have girls who can put the ball away but we need to get the ball to them first.  Our setters can move, they just have to pass to target.”

Other seniors on the team include Cheyanna McCabe, Alli O’Connell, Marie Johnson, Sabrina Shonkweiler and Hayley Stoesz.

Ellsworth has its first home match Tuesday against Elmwood.