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Volleyball: SSC will provide new challenges for Tigers

The Farmington volleyball team has faced its share of talented competition in recent years, with Shakopee, Chaska and Chanhassen regularly appearing in the state rankings and atop the Missota Conference standings.

The Tigers will likely face an even more challenging slate of games this year as they transition to the South Suburban Conference. Defending state champion Eagan is back to defend its title, and regular season champion Lakeville North, Prior Lake and Rosemount all won at least 20 matches a season ago. Burnsville, Lakeville South, Apple Valley, Eastview and fellow first-year conference member Shakopee round out a strong group of volleyball programs.

Veteran Farmington head coach Mike Woody said his team is going to have to be mentally tough to deal with the ups and downs that will come in its first year in the new league.

“In the Missota Conference there were some matches you knew you had to play your best to have a chance to win. Others you knew were going to be competitive and some you knew you would have a very good chance of winning if you didn’t mess up. We know we’re going to have to fight every night in this conference. That’s the difference,” Woody said. “We’ll have to learn patience and know we can play very good volleyball and not win and still feel good about it. On a Tuesday or Thursday night we can’t hang our heads and feel defeated.”

The Tigers do have some talent of their own to rely on. Six contributors are back from last year’s team that went 19-12, including the 1-2 punch of sophomore outside hitters Emma Fahning and Makenzie Hesse. Hesse smashed 380 kills last season, second most in school history, and added 206 digs. Fahning also did a little bit of everything, tallying 69 ace serves, 268 kills and 351 digs.

“They’ll both be on the floor in the front and back row. They’re both well-rounded players,” Woody said. “We’re focusing our defense on funneling toward them so they’ll get most of the digs and then give us a lot of our offense. Any time we can, we’ll be putting the ball up to those two.”

Summer Skokan is back on the outside after slamming 116 kills last season. Alexis Bradley could also see some time as part of the Tiger attack.

Leading the way in the middle of the front row is captain Vanessa Garske, who had 97 kills and 98 blocks last season. She will be joined by Hannah Garske and Gabi Arnold as the Tigers try to fill the void left by honorable mention all-conference pick Morgan Cecchettini.

Also lost to graduation was setter Ruthie Schmitt, who set a single-season school record for assists a season ago. Her absence means the Tigers will transition to a 6-2 rotation rather than a 5-1, allowing Hanna Baer (179 digs, 138 serve receptions), Alicia Hett and Brittany Baertsch to share time in the back row.

“Going into the off-season I was concerned about (the setter position), but the girls have really worked hard. We’re going to be fine at that position,” Woody said.

Joining the setters in the back row will be Amber Ripley, who had 121 serve receptions last year as a freshman.

Woody hopes his team can improve as the season goes on like it did a year ago when it won seven out of 10 matches to end the season and advanced to the section semifinals for the fourth time in school history. The strong finish also sealed the Tigers’ first above-.500 season since its state tournament team went 20-12 in 2009.

“A lot of it is getting the right combinations, have them understand who is doing what and being confident in each other. Those things started jelling as the season went on,” Woody said. “We have to take all those wins and losses and just worry about playing well and building for the end of the season. Like last year, we want to play our best volleyball in October.”

The Tigers open the season on the road Aug. 21 against former Missota foe Northfield.