The volleyball area coverage this fall provided constant excitement. The deep well of talented and hardworking athletes is on display in the 2020 Herald Journal All-Area Second Team.
Jenna Pelnis (HLWW)
Sometimes a player comes along that doesn’t just make big impact plays, but their presence alone stabilizes their team on the court. Jenna Pelnis has both characteristics and exhibits them excellently.
Reaching 1,000 digs in a career is no small feat, something Pelnis achieved this fall as a junior. On a team with most of the offensive weapons being younger, Pelnis took on not only a big role defensively but as a steadying and competitive force for the Lakers as a whole.
“Jenna plays a critical role on the team – besides her exceptional skill and knowledge of the game, her competitiveness is infectious,” HLWW coach Carol Meyerson said. “She is a consistent and dependable player and is always trying to improve.”
Though the Lakers struggled to win matches this year, Pelnis returns for a big senior season with multiple underclassmen to mentor as they make a jump. That’s just as valuable as her area-leading 309 digs in 2020.
“This season, she kept us in many sets with her defense,” Meyerson said. “Jenna led the team with her actions, showing up with a positive attitude and a desire to play for her team.”
Zoe Verhey (Dassel-Cokato)
Not only are there plenty of athletes that have culminated a decorated career that ends in 2020, but the returners are hungry for more. Dassel-Cokato’s Zoe Verhey is one of them.
“Zoe sets a great example for her team every time she steps in the gym. She loves every aspect of the game from practices through the competitions,” D-C coach Linda Resop said. “She will frequently say ‘just one more’ in practices, always wanting to be better.”
Verhey’s length up front made her a threat for blocks and she took advantage of free balls often in the middle. Her 87 kills were second on the team and her 45 blocks were the most in the area. After every point, a smile was on her face.
“The fun thing about Zoe is that she does all this with an almost palpable joy that she can’t help but to share with her team regardless of the game situation,” Resop said. “She leaves no doubt with anyone watching or playing with her that her very favorite place to be is on the volleyball court.”
Corbyn Menz (Delano)
Playing in a conference with plenty of talent that forces younger players to adapt quickly. In Corbyn Menz’s case, she caught on quickly and came around as a strong offensive presence for Delano.
“Corbyn has a lot of power and explosiveness,” Rue said. “Teams struggled defensively against her. Although she was only a sophomore, she demonstrated great confidence on the court.”
Though the 2020 campaign was cut short, Menz uses the full extent of her offseason time to prepare, and with two more high school years to go after leading the Tigers in kills as a sophomore, the potential is sky-high. She had 135 kills, 93 digs, 22 blocks, 17 aces, and 13 assists.
“Her IQ of the game is constantly increasing, and it will be fun to have her in a Tiger uniform for two more years,” Rue said.
Natalie Ernhart (Watertown-Mayer)
When you get to pass to a high-major Division I recruit, things look pretty easy. But Natalie Ernhart’s job as a setter requires far more than just placing the ball in a gettable area for her teammates on the outside.
“Natalie not only does a great job of putting up a good ball for our offense, but she is also able to turn out-of-system plays into a system play to allow our hitters to be a threat,” coach Andrea Raser said.
Ernhart was the Royals’ team leader in assists with 361, also second in the area, helping W-M to a perfect 12-0 record.
Great passers don’t get a ton of eyes drawn to them unless they make a mistake. That puts Ernhart in a pressurized position — but she makes plays outside of her assist numbers too.
“Natalie also is great on defense and keeps a lot of other teams out of their system with her serving,” Raser said.
Chloe Engelke (LP/HT)
When it comes to being a balanced, all-around player, LP/HT’s Chloe Engelke checked all the boxes in her first varsity season.
Her 27 aces were tied for the best in the area and she logged a team-high 76 assists. She was also second on the team in digs with 75.
One of just three underclassmen to see action this season, Engelke’s comfort level and willingness to work hard stood out.
“Chloe stepped up right away,” LP/HT coach Mary Otto said. “She always gives 110 percent in practice.”
Her strong sophomore season on the court and attitude off the court indicates even better years to come.
“Chloe acknowledges what is asked of her, works hard, and says kind words to her teammates,” Otto said. “She is a true team player.”
Gabby Wachholz (Mayer Lutheran)
Gabby Wachholz is halfway through her high school volleyball career as a two-year starter, and her abilities keep growing along with her versatility at all positions.
“She is a powerful hitter on the outside, very quick,” coach Joelle Grimsley said. “She plays all around and is a great defensive player as well.”
Next to her cousin Lilly, they form an offensive combo that helped the Crusaders to a top-three ranking in the state and had eyes on a title run. Lilly has one more year at Mayer Lutheran, while Gabby has her junior and senior seasons to progress past varsity veteran and into a top-tier player.
Wachholz had the Crusaders’ second-best kill total at 90 while picking up 88 digs as well.