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Blazer Volleyball team jumps up to 10th in national rankings with strong play from verterans, experience

Senior Lexi Ann, junior Victoria Nass and senior Chelsea Rachel lead the Blazer Volleyball team to start the 2013 season. | CSB Athletic Media

The CSB Blazer volleyball team is off to a strong start this year, and are currently ranked 10th in the Division III Volleyball rankings.

“Our success has a lot to do with our experience,” senior Lexi Alm said. “We have a lot of returning players,”

In 2012, Alm was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Honorable Mention team and earned All-MIAC team honors.

She joins a healthy group of returning upperclassmen who have grown together as a team throughout the last two years.

“We gel really well on and off the court,” junior defensive specialist Kelly Davenport said. “We are all really good friends, and we hang out a lot, so it makes us a stronger unit on the court.”

Davenport saw extended playing time last year, playing 123 sets for the Blazers. She also posted 312 digs for CSB in the 2012 season.

The Blazers entered the 2013 season with much to prove, and not just from the individual player standpoint.

“We play for our teammates and CSB, not ourselves,” junior outside hitter/right side Lexi Rinde said. “We represent something that is bigger than us.”

Rinde earned Academic All-Conference honors last year, and was featured as a MIAC Hitter of the Week.

The Blazers are showing early success on behalf of one key element to their game, that is, their impressive offensive statistics.

They have 493 kills in 11 matches, while their opponents have only totaled 300. They are limiting their errors on serve receptions by only having 30 on the year.

Another statistic that really sticks out for CSB is their 464 assists on the year. That number is strong compared to their opponents’ 281.

Their separation from the rest of the pack in that regard has driven the Blazers’ to a heated start.

The Blazers only lost one set in their first 11 non conference matches heading into their Wednesday night matchup with Gustavus. That loss came against Northwestern University (MN), and CSB went on to win that match.

“We went into that set thinking that it would be handed to us,” Rinde said. “It humbled us as a team, especially before conference play.”

As far as motivation for succeeding this season, Blazers use their memory of the 2011 campaign as fuel.

That season, the Blazers had a record of 18-13 and were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Division III National Volleyball Tournament.

“That was just our second year with (head coach Nicole) Hess,” Alm said. “We were still getting used to her coaching style and expectations.”

Though the new coaching style took some getting used to, Hess’ contibutions to the program have shown exponential improvement throughout the last four seasons.

Another key factor to the 2011 campaign was the shortage of players with experience at the collegiate level.

“2011 was definately our growing pains year,” Rinde said. “We had a lot of incoming freshmen that year, and only 7 upperclassmen.”

Much of the Blazers’ early success this year can be traced to rigourous summer training.

“Our strength trainer gave all of us the same offseason instruction packet,” Alm said. “That training regimen was extremely helpful.”

Along with the physical benefits of the program, the team had the opportunity to gain a friendly dynamic and bond as friends.

“The turn out of girls that participated in it was great,” Davenport said. “We all got better in the offseason and became closer as well.”

Last year, the Blazers were at home while the Tommies won the National Championship in Holland, Michigan.

St. Ben’s used the Tommies’ success as a coveted goal for where they wanted their team to go this season.

The Blazers lost to the Tommies all three times that they played them last year.

“We thought too much about those games, and we didn’t treat them like they were just another match,” Davenport said. “We worried too much about our mistakes.”

Understadably, the game receiving the most hype across campus is the matchup versus St. Thomas on Wednesday, Oct. 2.

“Playing them at home will definitely help us out,” Davenport said. “Especially if the crowd is super loud.”

The home-turf advantage is pivotal in the eyes of Davenport and her teammates.

“A really good crowd will absolutely help us,” Alm said. “We feed off their energy.”

CSB takes a robust record of 11-1 into their next match against St. Catherine’s University at 3 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 21, at home.

Though the Blazers are ranked 10th in the nation, they understand that humility is key to having a truly successful season.

“Anyone can lose to anyone, and anyone can beat anyone,” Alm said. “That’s volleyball.”

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