The Kummer sisters have more in common than just their last name. Morgan, Mackenzie and Claire play on the same Ellsworth varsity teams, they go to school together and they all share similar personality traits. They're fluent in sarcasm, have a competitive side, are driven to lead their teams to success, and all have an apparent appreciation for their sisters.
All three sisters have been playing volleyball and softball together for Ellsworth since 2015, Claire's freshman year, and whether it's in the gym or out in the field, all Ellsworth opponents should fear going up against this trio.
Morgan, a senior; Mackenzie, a junior; and Claire, a sophomore; all started playing volleyball in seventh grade, but if you've ever gotten the chance to watch them dominate in an Ellsworth volleyball game, you'd be shocked to find out that they've only been playing volleyball for a small portion of their lives.
Morgan leads the Panthers in the back row where she's able to dig up even the hardest attacks and serves, always finding the ball and getting it to her setter, even if that means gaining a few bumps and bruises in the process. And "good luck" to any team who tries to cover a Morgan Kummer back-row attack.
"Morgan is our defensive leader," Panther volleyball head coach Nicole Vande Berg said. "I'd put her up against any defender in our conference. She's probably the best."
Mackenzie is the team's front row powerhouse. Not only can she smack the ball so hard that defenders barely have time to react before her attacks turn into kills, but her volleyball IQ is exemplary. Her ability to see the court and find holes in her opponent's defense sets her apart from the other great hitters in the Middle Border Conference.
"Mack's probably the best hitter in the conference," Vande Berg said of her junior middle hitter. "When she's in the middle she controls everything at the net for us."
Claire's versatility on the court allows her to be a threat in various positions. She may be in the back row racking up stats in the digs column with Morgan, or she'll be in the front battling at the net alongside Mackenzie.
"Claire is working on a new role as an outside hitter," Vande Berg said. "She hasn't played in the front row before this year, and with the progress she's made, she's probably third in kills on the team behind [her sisters].
"Any time you get three really good athletes together it's great to have on your team."
But the Kummer sisters will be the first ones to admit that along with the benefits of playing together, there are also challenges to sharing the court and field with each other.
"There's definitely pros and cons to playing with each other," Claire said.
"I don't think they're necessarily problems," Mackenzie said. "Just conflicts."
"There are conflicts that arise with any family," Morgan added. "But ours are moreso just because we are with each other almost 24/7."
The girls leave home for school together, see each other at school (Morgan and Mackenzie share a class, and all three have lunch at the same time), then they either go to practice or a game after class, then all return to the same home at night.
"Even on weekends we'll do stuff together," Claire said.
"Sure, we can get on each other's nerves sometimes, but I think that overall, [playing on the same teams] is a really cool thing, because how many people get to say that they played with two—not just one—of their sisters for more than one year on their high school volleyball and softball teams?" Morgan said. "It's honestly a really cool thing, but there are drawbacks at times."
"How familiar we are with each other definitely carries on to the court sometimes," Claire said.
The benefit of this familiarity is that they know how to communicate with one another on the court.
"When Morgan or Claire is struggling or doing well on the court, I know how to talk to them," Mackenzie said. "I wouldn't talk to Claire the same way when she's struggling as I would talk to Morgan."
"We all want to work really hard and accomplish a lot of things," Claire added. "It's nice being on a team with girls who want to do the same things as you and reach a common goal."
But sometimes their sibling comfortability leads to them not holding back with giving a sister a hard time about her play, and they all agree they're more likely to hold their sisters to higher standards than they would their other teammates.
And they're never able to put sports aside and come home to a life where they're not teammates.
"After a game is done, we come home and talk about it for hours," Mackenzie said.
Their routine after games is to come home, grab some food from the kitchen, five minutes may pass, but then it "goes crazy" and all they do is talk about the night's game.
"What happens on the court and in the field definitely carries over into the household," Mackenzie said.
"Sometimes that can be not so good," Mackenzie said, "but we make it work."
They make it work by getting acclimated with sarcastic jokes. For instance, when asked what it will be like once Morgan graduates and moves out, both younger siblings turned toward one another with sly smiles and at the same time said, "It'll be awesome," before bursting out in laughter.
But they're joking, and Morgan knows it, and she even throws in her own digs about how she won't miss their cooking once she leaves home.
Others may think they're too harsh on each other, but it's apparent their bond is deeply-rooted in roasting one another and also being each other's support systems when needed.
"They're not always nice to each other, and they give each other some grief from time to time," Vande Berg said, "but in the long run, they'd have each other's back."
"[Morgan leaving] will be hard," Claire said in a more serious manner. "I haven't played any sports without either Morgan or Mackenzie. I think it'll just be hard to adjust to playing solo."
The team as a whole will miss the senior once she graduates next spring.
"In the offseason we'll have to work really hard to gain back the chemistry that we'll be losing," Claire said.
"We're going to have to try to fill the void," Mackenzie said.
"We're going to have to find someone willing to throw their body on the floor the way Morgan does," Vande Berg said.
She recalled how in a recent practice there was a ball 30 feet off the court, completely out of Morgan's reach, and she was still diving onto the court, giving it her all to try to keep the ball in play. In practice.
"There's no regard for physical safety from her," Vande Berg said about her senior defender. "She's going to get a ball no matter what. It's just a different mentality."
Vande Berg thinks her upcoming varsity players are learning how to develop this mentality by watching the varsity squad, but she knows that Morgan will be hard to replace.
"This has been my life for the past four years," Morgan said. "High school sports have played a huge role in my high school experience."
The senior said it'll be an adjustment being far away from home and creating new relationships with her new teammates at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where the next chapter of her softball career will begin.
Morgan's time as an Ellsworth Panther may be coming to an end, but she'll always hold onto the memories she's created while playing sports with her sisters. These memories include team sleepovers, the softball game against St. Croix Central where all three Kummer sisters hit home runs, and the countless inside jokes that the three sisters share amongst themselves.
But they have more memories to make before their trio becomes a duo.
Morgan wants to make her last season memorable, and wants to make the most of the time she has left playing with her sisters.
"I don't get these games back," Morgan said. "Nor do these two [her sisters] or anyone else on the team."
Similarly, Mackenzie and Claire want to embrace the moments they have left playing on the court with Morgan and don't want to take anything for granted.
However, anyone who knows the Kummer sisters knows they won't be satisfied with ending the 2017 volleyball season with nothing but a few fun memories and some sisterly-bonding.
All jokes aside, their ultimate goal is to cap off Morgan's senior year of volleyball with a trip to the Division 2 WIAA state tournament.
Anyone who doubts the Panthers' chance at making it to the big dance will have the Kummer sisters to answer to.