A top-10 volleyball season in Class AA in 2018, Southwest Christian looks to be back in that mix once again this fall.
With six varsity members returning, including top hitter Mackenzie Close and defensive specialist Marissa Agrimson, the Stars are ready to soar.
"(We look to) challenge for a conference and section title," Southwest Christian coach Greg Sayuk said. "Position ourselves to make a run at a state championship."
Sayuk said the team's athleticism is a reason for excitement. The Stars are well-rounded team.
"We have filled many of the holes we've had in recent years," he said.
Close has physically gotten stronger, Sayuk said, adding more shots to her arsenal. Agrimson leads a strong defensive corp with poise and IQ, the coach said.
Sophomore outside hitter Estelle Haugen, new to varsity, has become much more polished in the off-season. "She's long, athletic, and jumps very well," Sayuk said.
Senior Avery Dockter at middle hitter, senior outside hitter Madeleine Lemkuil and junior Felicia Luther, who steps into the setter role, also return from last season's varsity rotation.
"We're laying the defensive foundation. Our offense will take care of itself the first couple of weeks, but we need to hammer home defensive habits that will stick with us throughout the entire season," said Sayuk of the importance of early-season team workouts.
Southwest Christian's first six matches and tournament are on the road beginning Thursday, Aug. 22 at Totino-Grace High School. Other tests early on are defending Section 2AAA champion Shakopee and North Branch in the Side-Out Classic at Edina High School on Saturday, Aug. 24.
To beat the best come section playoff time, you have to play the best in the regular season for preparation.
Southwest Christian's boys soccer team is taking that approach in 2019 in the third year under Head Coach Brad “Cookie” Carlson, who is coaching high school soccer for the 37th years.
"Our section is strong again this year led by 2018 state participant Holy Family and 2017 state participant Orono. Waconia has very strong team this year also. We added strength to our schedule, playing a host of upper division Section 6 schools along with strong schools from other sections including 2018 Class A state champion The Blake School," Carlson said.
A three-way scrimmage against Orono, Eden Prairie and 2018 Class AA state champion Stillwater kicked off things Aug. 17.
"Our hope is to be prepared in October to make a deep run this year, but it will not be easy," Carlson said.
Graduation claimed top scorer Josiah Colman, meaning Southwest Christian will need other players to step up and put the ball in the goal. Defense and goaltending, being stingier in goals allowed, also is an area the Stars can improve on.
Junior Bergan Rosdahl, a second-year starting goaltender, and senior defensemen Adam Cavalieri, Dylan DuMoulin, Carter Nelson, and Michael Walmer all return to the back line.
"We have great leadership, led by senior Captains David Brain, Dylan DuMoulin and Adam Cavalieri. They are joined by eight other returning letter winners. We will be a senior loaded team again this year with a lot of experienced defensive players returning," Carlson said.
Brain was the Stars' team leader in both 2017 and 2018 in assists and was second on the team both years in total points. He was a MCAA All-Conference selection in 2017 and Minnesota River All-Conference in 2018.
Dylan, Adam, Michael, and Carter will form a formidable back four, giving David time and space to do what he does best, create scoring chances for us," Carlson said.
Southwest Christian players worked hard during the first week of conditioning. The head coach said he saw some immediate growth in players during the week.
"They all come with great attitudes and a desire to learn. They love to play, love to run, and love to have fun. A coach cannot ask for more than that from his team. This team will be a hard working bunch. They know they will have to come together as a team," he said.
"We will be strong in the back with seasoned veterans that possess speed, strength and athleticism to go along with their good soccer skills. Our midfield will be quick and will be depended upon to create scoring chances for us. It may take us a while to figure out how to score goals, but David has a knack for putting the ball in dangerous spots for us to get good opportunities," Carlson added.
Southwest Christian opens the season in the "Battle for the Paddle" Tournament against Section 6 rivals Delano, Willmar and host Monticello on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 22 and 23. The Stars are the defending tournament champions.
A win percentage of .333 in 2018, sixth among Minnesota River Conference girls tennis teams, Southwest Christian built for the season ahead. A year in which the Stars return a majority of its starting roster.
Now the goal is top-four in league play, be more competitive, and of course win more matches.
"I'm very excited that we are returning most of our varsity starting line-up. We have a strong core of seniors who have been working on their game during the off-season and several versatile players who will contribute in either singles or doubles positions," Southwest Christian coach Gary Schmidt said.
Injuries to two of the Stars' top three singles last season derailed plans a bit, but it what it did was boost the level of play from Lily Schwen, who moved into the top singles spot.
Everyone now healthy, Southwest Christian is in a good spot into the 2019 season.
"We lost Lauren Jones and Julia McIntosh mid-season due to injuries. They are returning healthy and excited to compete in our top singles positions along with Lily Schwen. These ladies will provide excellent depth in our singles line-up," Schmidt said.
Southwest Christian, which opens Tuesday, Aug. 20, in a home match with New Life Academy, has been working on getting match ready through intrasquad scrimmages.
"During this process, I've been reiterating that each position on the team is equally important. When we play another school, the No. 1 singles position is worth one point along with the No. 3 doubles team," Schmidt said.
Senior Josie Harris and junior Ella Schmidt return at first doubles as does the team of Greta and Hannah Schwarz, both sophomores. Seniors Ava Thiewes and Katie Woodward also hope to be varsity contributors.