The first week of August is ritualistic for Northfield volleyball coach Tim Torstenson.
In a typical year, the start of that month signals it’s time for him to begin preparing practice plans, mapping out how tryouts will work and organizing schedules for his coaching staff before official practice starts a couple weeks later. This year, the first week of August brought the news the high school volleyball season was pushed back to the spring.
That is until the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors reversed course Monday and announced volleyball will be played this fall and forced Torstenson to cut his standard prep time.
“Now we have to do all that in four days or five days,” Torstenson said. “That’s all given us quite a bit of anxiety. I mean, we’re super excited that it’s going to happen. I like this much better than the spring. I know it’s going to cause some issues, but with volleyball specifically (the spring) would have caused more issues with the whole club thing. We don’t see that as much in other sports and it’s definitely unique to volleyball, but I’m super pleased we’re doing it this spring and I think the feeling from the girls is the same.”
Practice officially starts Monday, Sept. 28, but volleyball teams around the state have been in the gym since last week, when the 12 optional practices the MSHSL permitted after postponing the fall season were set to begin. Those also continue through this week.
Tryouts are still prohibited from starting until the official first day of practice, however, so this week has more or less copied the open gym attitude of last week, just with a different frame of mind.
“After that first week when we didn’t know this yet, it wasn’t super motivating I think for the girls to be there,” Torstenson said. “Part of it was we’ve had such good success, that they were like, ‘Why are we even doing this?’ It’s 12 practices and we’re not playing until the spring, so the motivation to get them to go at it (wasn’t there).”
The team practiced Monday and Tuesday, but are off Wednesday for the weekly cleaning of the Northfield High School building, and will be back in the gym Thursday.
“Thursday will be more fun and laid-back, and Friday we’ll maybe do that again and let the captains do what they want to do,” Torstenson said, “or we may just cancel because the coaches and I are going to have a meeting Friday to discuss how we’re moving forward into next week.”
Next week, the intensity will pick up quickly. Tryouts will be contested Monday and Tuesday, leaving just over a week of practices before the team’s first match Oct. 8.
“We’ll come in and treat it like preseason, at least that first week,” Torstenson said. “We’re going to be doing conditioning and have a little bit longer practices, but it’s just going to be probably a lot of playing, too, to get the girls acquainted with each other. We don’t have a scrimmage, we don’t have all this time to get ready, so it’s going to be bang, bang.”
Helping the Raiders in that abbreviated preseason will be a wealth of experience. Northfield graduates only two seniors from last year’s varsity team — outside hitter Bronwyn Timperley and setter Lida King, who was on the court last year for every point in a close match.
The loss of King and the hole it creates in the middle of the court causes problems when combined with the abbreviated preseason, but Torstenson is confident in the overall passing and ball control ability of his team to help ease the transition.
Seven seniors returning from last year’s varsity squad won’t hurt, either.
“That’s going to be a big part of this, especially with the short preseason,” Torstenson said. “Just the experience and leadership of those girls I’m hoping will help out with the shorter part of it.”