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Volleyball preview: Twin Towers back to lead Tigers

Senior hitters Jordan Bridges, left, and Katie Habeck are back to lead the Tigers this season after helping the team to a 20-12 season and a trip to the state tournament last season.2 / 2

Plenty of good volleyball players have come and gone during the last four years, but Farmington coach Mike Woody has always found a way to build around his returning players with a cast of newcomers and form a winning team.

The 2010 season could be Woody's biggest challenge yet. The Tigers started practice Monday morning at Farmington High School without six senior regulars that helped lead the team to its first appearance at the Class 3A State Tournament last fall at Xcel Energy Center.

The class included standout five-year varsity player Danielle Dombeck, who led the team with 371 kills and 441 digs in '09, as well as starting setter Rachel Sand, starting libero Alexia Rains, back row player Beth Pappenfus and hitters Lauren McHenry and Erin Wynings.

Even with all that senior leadership, the Tigers started slow last season. Coming off of seasons of 22-6 and 20-6, they sat at 13-10 after a mid-October loss against Bloomington Jefferson. The team started to play better during its final two regular season games against Holy Angels and New Prague, then carried the momentum from those victories into section tournament wins over Hastings, Faribault and Rochester Century.

Woody remembers how the banner season progressed, and he expects this season could play out in a similar fashion.

"We learned from last year that it all starts with one match, one game, one point at a time," he said. "We will have the constant goal of getting a little better every day. Notice that last year we had the most losses of any of my four seasons, yet we had the most success. We are going to have to be patient, and persevere through some growing pains early in the season. If we work hard and stay together as a team, anything is possible."

Woody has a couple of big reasons to be optimistic in 6-foot-2 seniors Katie Habeck and Jordan Bridges.

Habeck was the team's lone all-tournament team selection at the state tournament, capping off a junior season where she once again led the state in blocks with 247 while also taking on a larger role in the offense with 367 kills.

Bridges may be the one doing more attacking on the offensive end this season. She had 139 blocks and 53 kills last year, but more opportunities should be available with Dombeck, McHenry and Wynings out of the front row.

"I couldn't ask for two better kids to be returning than Katie and Jordan," Woody said. "These two have the perfect temperament to help their teammates grow around them."

Other options in the front row could be seniors Ashlyn Vannoy (five kills) and Amanda Mohr (two kills, five blocks, three digs), as well as junior Laura Steege. All three saw limited time on the varsity roster last season.

There are several players competing for the setter spot vacated by Sand. Senior Halee Lundquist and sophomore Mia Johnston are back after sharing the setter position for the JV team last year and junior Andrea Smith played setter for the B Squad.

The picture is less clear concerning who will fill in for the Tigers in the back row.

"This will be the hardest role to fill," Woody said. "Replacing a Dombeck, who passed nearly half the balls that came over the net the last five years, will be tough. Then you add losing Pappenfus and Rains and finding replacements becomes nearly impossible. We do have a number of girls working hard, however, to do just that."

Whoever takes the court for the Tigers, they will go up against a revamped Missota Conference that now includes volleyball powerhouse Chaska and second-year program Chanhassen. The schools will take the spots of Hutchinson, which joined the Wright County Conference, and Prior Lake, which signed on with the new South Suburban Conference.

"It is hard to believe that losing Hutch and Prior Lake that the conference could get stronger, but adding Chaska and Chanhassen has definitely made it stronger," Woody said. "I think that the Missota conference was as strong as any other conference in the state, and now it might be even better. A Missota Conference championship is really going to mean something."