Archive for Kip Kovar

PREP VOLLEYBALL: W-M seniors ready for one last run together

WATERTOWN – They are all different in their own way. If you put the seniors on the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team all together, you get something special. You get a team that’s headed back to the state tournament for a second-straight season, and a team that does it the right way.

“They’re awesome,” Watertown-Mayer coach Andrea Raser said. “That’s the thing. They’re all so different. You have Nikki, who is the one who talks and kind of directs everybody. Then you have somebody like Vanessa, who’s the quiet and stoic one who just goes out and gets it done. She’s the calm presence. Then you have Lacy, who is such a hard worker, but she’s kind of the one who keeps them real and light. Then you have Kylie Hoese, who is a total gamer and super aggressive. With Janessa, who is in a new role, but still supporting her teammates. It’s just fun to watch them grow together.”

Those dynamics between the five seniors have the Royals back at the state tournament for the third time in school history. While the seniors are a big part of the success this season, they are quick to share that this is a team that needs everyone.

“There were a lot of seniors on the floor this year, but it wasn’t just us,” senior setter Nikki McDonald said. “It was the work of a sophomore,  a home-schooled junior, and an eighth-grader. We are one team. People might look at certain players for stats or whatever, but nothing happens without the defense that they do. Nothing happens without all the work that we all do.”

That work has Watertown-Mayer right back where they want to be. After getting a taste of the state tournament a year ago, the Royals are ready to show what they can really do now that they’ve been there before and know what to expect.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as shook when we walk in,” McDonald said. “It’s a really big stage, and everybody in Minnesota knows that. Us having the experience of going back, I think that is going to be a huge part in how we play. It’s no longer a huge stage to us. It still is, but we have the experience going back. For the girls who haven’t played at the state tournament, I think that us having experience will comfort them in a way. We know what we’re doing out there, and they can just step in and do their roles.”

“I’m super excited,” senior Kylie Hoese said. “We’re ready to show them what we got this year. We have a level of comfort there knowing we were there last year. This year, we can actually do our thing and make a statement instead of being just happy that we made it.”

“It’s really exciting,” Vanessa Schroeder added. “Now we know what it’s like. We’re ready for it. We’ve just been playing together for so long. We know so much about each other.”

A familiar opponent awaits the Royals in the Class AA state quarterfinals. The Royals are the No. 5 seed, and will face No. 4 North Branch, the same team that beat them in the quarterfinals a season ago. While the Vikings beat the Royals in three-straight sets last season, the Royals are excited for another shot on the state’s biggest stage.

“They’re still pretty good,” McDonald said. “They went pretty far last year. I think it’s going to be a fun game again. When I saw the bracket and saw North Branch, I thought redemption right away. That was my first thought.”

“We know they are a good team,” Schroeder said. “Just knowing that going into it, we know we have to fight hard. I believe we will.”

With some experience under their belts this time around, the Royals will be looking to improve on their performance from last year’s appearance.

“I do believe that last year we had a few people that played ball really well,” McDonald said. “Overall, I think we were just kind of playing frantic. I do believe that they’re going to underestimate us. They beat us last year, and one of our outside hitters is out with a torn ACL. I really just don’t think they’re going to take us seriously.”

North Branch presents a tough task for the Royals as they feature one of the top hitters in the state in Cianna Selbitschka. Selbitschka caught the Royals off guard last season with her skills, but this year, the Royals are hoping to be ready.

“It’s going to be a good game,” Raser said.  “It’s going to be exciting. Being able to play against them last year is a good thing for us. We kind of know that they have that awesome hitter. We know that now. We know that we’re going to go out and play great defense against her.”

“I think it’s going to come down to who wants it more,” Hoese said. “They’re No. 4 and we’re No. 5. Whoever outplays the other wins. We’re gritty and we want it.”

Whatever happens for the Royals at the state tournament, these five seniors have taken the Watertown-Mayer program to new heights. While the ultimate goal is surely a state title, there’s no doubt these seniors will enjoy their last run together.

“It’s bittersweet,” McDonald said. “This weekend is the last time we’re going to put on a Royals jersey and play volleyball for Watertown. Every good thing must come to an end, but it’s still pretty sad to know that our time playing together as volleyball players will be done after this. Hopefully, we’ll make a run and make a small town proud, and make each other proud.”

While this year’s seniors have left a legacy on the program, they’ve also left a big spot in their coach’s heart.

“I’ve been coaching this group of seniors since seventh grade,” Raser said. “They’re like a little family to me, as all the girls are. These girls, I just got to watch them grow and mature and become the team and the players they are. It’s pretty special to be a part of.”

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Thibault sisters give Royals a dynamic duo for years to come

WATERTOWN – One can deliver a powerful spike for a kill. The other can turn that powerful spike into a dig. They are the Thibault sisters and they have the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team looking to make a run at the Class AA state volleyball tournament this weekend.

Paige, a sophomore outside hitter, along with Kate, an eighth-grader playing the role of libero, are just one reason the Royals were able to capture the Section 5AA title for a second-straight season. While being teammates and sisters out on the court, it’s safe to say this season has been a blast for the two siblings.

“It’s been really fun,” Paige said. “It’s been a good experience for both of us. We’re sisters, so, sometimes we don’t get along, but the majority of the time we’ve been doing good. We usually give each other tips on the court and try to help each other out.”

Paige is in her third season at the varsity level despite being a sophomore. Kate is in her first season at the varsity level, and having her sister on the floor beside her has helped make the transition smooth.

“It’s been a good experience for me,” Kate said. “Having Paige help me throughout the season has been nice.”

Being sisters on the same team comes with some benefits. Not only do the Thibaults enjoy playing together, they know how to overcome tough times and turn them into good times together.

“They work through things so differently than the other girls,” Watertown-Mayer coach Andrea Raser said. “They’re sisters. They live with each other. The know each other. They go home at the end of a game or practice, and they talk about it. To watch them on the court together and play is fun. You get those random balls that drop between them and you see them look at each other. It’s two words and they work it out and act like it never happened.”

The game of volleyball doesn’t stop after the games or practice, though. Even when Paige and Kate get home, the conversations continue.

“We do give each other a little hard time about stuff like that,” Paige said. “We talk about things we could do better the next game. We kind of just help each other improve. We both know each other well, but in the end, we are just sisters so we do sister things, too.”

This weekend, Paige will get her second taste of the state tournament in her promising career. While being there last year was a moment to remember, being able to take the floor at the Xcel Energy Center with her sister this time has her even more excited.

“I’m excited to share the moment with her,” Paige said. “It’s awesome. It will be good for our whole team with all the new girls that are playing this year. I’m happy that I get to share it with Kate.”

A season ago, Kate was at the state tournament. She was in the stands as a seventh-grader cheering on her sister. This year, she’ll be out on the court battling alongside her on the state’s biggest stage.

“It’s going to be great,” Kate said. “I just remember watching it and seeing how much fun they were having. I just can’t wait to be down there playing with them.”

While playing in the state tournament is one thing, it’s a whole different thing being able to play in it with your sister next to you. That’s something that’s not lost on Paige.

“It’s definitely something special,” Paige said. “It’s an honor to be there. We earned our spot there, and both Kate and I are very excited to share it with each other and with our team.”

“That’s one of those experiences that they’ll talk about for the rest of their life,” Raser said. “Just being sisters and playing on that same team together at that level. That doesn’t happen very often. It’s super exciting for them.”

What has Raser even more excited is the fact that she has the Thibault sisters for years to come. With how talented they are already, Raser sees big things for them in their future.

“I had Paige when she was an eighth-grader, and now Kate as an eighth-grader,” Raser said. “They’re just going to keep growing and getting better. I think people, when they watch them, they see that both of those girls know the game so well. They’ve been around it. When you watch them play, you forget they’re young. Paige is a sophomore. We have her for two more years, and she’s going to keep getting better every year and really stepping into that leadership role more. Kate’s right along with it.”

While a state title is the ultimate goal for Paige and Kate, there’s no doubt they will remember this experience together, and build off it for their years to come.

“We’re definitely just going to build off of this,” Paige said. “I have two more years and she has four more years. We’re going to build off each other and keep getting better. Having this experience will hopefully have us get there again one of these years.”

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Tjernagel’s skillset, leadership has Crusaders eyeing third-straight state title

MAYER – A state tournament appearance for a high school athlete is a special moment. Some say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

While that might be true, that’s not the case for Mayer Lutheran’s Olivia Tjernagel. In her first two seasons of high school volleyball, Tjernagel already has two state titles on her resumé. After losing nine seniors from last year’s state championship team, Tjernagel and the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team are back once again, looking to defend their crown for a third-straight season.

“I’ve never had an athlete who’s had the opportunity to have two already and a chance for more,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “For her, I think it’s always in the back of her mind, yet, she’s a humble player and really knows she would not be where she’s at without the other girls.”

It hasn’t been an easy road back to the state tournament for Tjernagel and the Crusaders. They started the season with three-straight losses, including letting a 2-0 lead against rival Watertown-Mayer slip away.

After a slow start to the season, the Crusaders began to find their way, and Tjernagel has been a big reason for it. With just one senior on this year’s roster, Tjernagel has been thrown into a leadership role this season, something that’s new to her, compared to her last two seasons.

“With only having one senior, it’s been kind of hard,” Tjernagel said. “I’ve stepped up a lot just from last year. I’ve had all the seniors to look up to, and now I’m the one that the girls look up to for positive encouragement. I feel like I’ve stepped that up a lot.”

The emergence of leadership from Tjernagel hasn’t been lost on her coach either.

“Really well,” Grimsley said about how Tjernagel has handled being a leader. “I think at first it was a little more difficult. She’s really stepped into that just through her play and actions.”

While playing on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center will be nothing new for Tjernagel, this year will be a bit different. It’s a new group of girls and she’s ready to go out and defend their title with a new core around her.

“I’m so excited,” Tjernagel said. “Nobody really thought we’d make it this far. Now, we have. It’s just really exciting to let all those other girls have that chance at state and get to play.”

Tjernagel has been a staple for the Crusaders the past two seasons. At 6-foot-1, Tjernagel presents a nightmare matchup for opposing teams at the net. Heading into the state tournament, Tjernagel has recorded 353 kills to go along with 139 total blocks this season. While her size and 36-inch vertical certainly help, it’s the hard work she puts in that makes her really stand out.

“She’s gifted because of her body type, first of all,” Grimsley said. “A lot of that is genetics and so forth, but she works hard in the offseason. She’s a two-sport athlete. She continues to work hard and goes to camps and all those types of things. She’ll get a lot better as she gets stronger, too. She’s got to grow into that 6-foot-1 body.”

Tjernagel has already verbally committed to the University of Northern Iowa to continue her volleyball career. While her college choice is taken care of for the meantime, that’s allowed her to be the go-to hitter for the Crusaders in the clutch all season long.

“A lot of times I just say give it Liv if she’s up in the front row,” Grimsley said. “What’s kind of neat, is the other kids know that. They know where we need to get the ball, and they just do what I tell them as far as that goes.”

While not many people expected Mayer Lutheran to be back at the state tournament this year after being hit hard by graduation, the Crusaders aren’t just satisfied to be there again. As the No. 2 seed in Class A, Mayer Lutheran is battle-tested and ready to attempt a three-peat as state champions while enjoying the moment.

“It’s once in a lifetime and a great experience,” Tjernagel said. “Just getting to go there is so much fun. You just have to enjoy it while you’re there. It’s so fun. It’s just a bunch of team bonding and you get to know each other even more than you already have throughout the season. It’s so much fun.”

PREP VOLLEYBALL: Lade’s emergence has Crusaders back at state tournament once again

MAYER – Mayer Lutheran freshman Emma Lade came into this season not knowing a whole lot about her teammates. She’s played with a few of them here and there, but ultimately, it was something new for the freshman setter.

Fast forward to this weekend, and Lade and the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team will be back at the Xcel Energy Center once again for the state tournament.

While the transition and integration to the Crusaders hasn’t always been easy, there’s no doubt the emergence of Lade is a big reason the Crusaders are back to defend their title.

“I’ve been able to fit in well,” Lade said. “I scrimmaged with them in Shakopee before I knew I was coming here. That really helped me to figure out I was coming here. They were all really inviting, especially Symone.”

After a somewhat slow start to the season in which Lade got used to the speed of the game at the varsity level, she’s found her way alongside her teammates.

“I’ve grown a lot,” Lade said. “I’ve grown mentally and close with them. Before I just knew Lilly because we played together, and now I’ve really gotten to know everybody.”

Lade started the season as the backup setter, but as the season has progressed, she’s quickly became one of the leaders on the team despite being a freshman.

“That took her a long time,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “We talked a lot about that it doesn’t matter your age. You’ve got to take a leadership role. Honestly, I did not see that start to click with her until maybe three weeks ago. She was very timid and not sure if she should. She’s finally been able to do that now, which you can see on the court. You can see how she’s gelling with people. She’s easily excited, yet she is very critical of herself.”

Lade now splits the setting duties with junior Riley Corrigan. The two have built a strong relationship between the two of them as the season has progressed, which is crucial to the success once again for Mayer Lutheran.

“It’s good,” Lade said about her relationship with Corrigan. “All the time in practice, we’re helping each other. We just encourage each other on the court and in practice and it really helps. The relationships have helped a lot. We just encourage each other and step up to the challenge. We just keep pushing and fighting.”

Playing two setters throughout a match is nothing new for Grimsley and the Crusaders. The past two seasons, Grimsley had the luxury of using Maddy Hucky and Lauren Wandersee as setters. Although neither Corrigan or Lade fill the role Hucky had, it’s a big benefit to have two setters who can run the offense when needed.

“It’s nice,” Grimsley said. “I don’t know if we’d ever have either of them play up front yet, but it’s nice to have both of them who know the system.”

Lade will get her first taste of the state tournament this weekend. While the ultimate goal is to capture another state title, Grimsley is very excited to have these girls experience what it’s like. They might not be the most experienced bunch, but Grimsley believes everything they’ve seen this season will help them on the big stage.

“That’s awesome for all of them,” Grimsley said. “This is what it’s like. This is an experience now. This group is very inexperienced, but throughout the year, you can see who we’ve played and where we’ve been.  Those five-set matches paid off for us this week for sure. The other teams didn’t have a lot of that, and we really did. We were able to dig back and say we’ve done this already. We knew what we had to do to finish with a win.”

FIGHT FOR FIVE: Royals top Islanders, one win away from return trip to state

WATERTOWN – When the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team took the court Thursday night, they did so without one of their top players and leaders. While it’s been tough for the Royals with senior Janessa Berrios out with injury, they’ve found a way to rally together, and keep their sights set on their goal.

The Royals took another step closer to reaching that goal, knocking off No. 4 DeLaSalle 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-22) Tuesday night at home, clinching a spot in the Section 5AA title game for a second-straight season.

“We were fighting for each point,” W-M coach Andrea Raser said. “We were fighting for a lot of things. We’re fighting for a player who is not on the court that’s usually always on the court. We’re fighting for a new rotation. Tonight was a game where we needed to go out and say this is what we can do.”

The Royals did just that as they secured a spot in the section title game by grinding out a win in three sets. It was never easy as the Islanders gave the Royals all they could handle from the opening serve.

“DeLaSalle is good,” senior setter Nikki McDonald said. “They showed us that they’re good. I think we kind of underestimated them a little bit, and they showed us that this is the playoffs. Our coach says we have a target on our back because we’re the No. 1 seed. They’re a really good team, and you can’t underestimate anyone in the playoffs.”

“They never stopped fighting,” senior Kylie Hoese added. “We just had to give it our all.”

After a slow start as the Royals struggled with the height of the Islanders, the Royals began to figure things out and make their move. A 5-0 run turned a deficit into a three-point lead, giving the Royals the confidence they needed to take down the Islanders after struggling early.

“We’ve just got to keep going and keep swinging,” Raser said. “When they have a big block up, we got to remember that you can’t get through a big block. You got to go around it. You have to be smart and aggressive.”

With Berrios out, the Royals turned to Paige Thibault and Kylie Hoese to take charge. Thibault, who’s been one of the go-to players for the Royals all season, played well once again, but it was Hoese who stepped up her game when the Royals needed it the most.

“That girl is a gamer,” Raser said. “She truly is. She is somebody who just wants it. She just goes out there, and I don’t think she knows how to not go for it. She just goes out there and steps up whenever we need her to.”

Hoese finished with 15 kills and just three attack errors, giving the Royals a spark they desperately need to hold off the upset-minded Islanders. In set two, Hoese rattled off three-straight kills for the Royals, turning a tied set into a 17-14 lead for W-M.

“It really helps because we’re such a family” Hoese said. “When one person is out, we all step up and take that role. We just have another thing to fight for.”

While Hoese and Thibault led the way with 15 kills each, it’s been the emergence of Faith Unglaub and Natalie Ernhart that has the Royals one game away from another state tournament appearance. Both Unglaub and Ernhart were thrown into the mix in the final game of the regular season, and have shown they can contribute in the first two playoff games for W-M.

“It’s huge,” Raser said about those two stepping in. “Our team is really good at believing in each other. When you walk in and step on the court with these girls that have been playing all season, there’s a little intimidation factor there. The fact they just go out and play ball with them, it’s awesome.”

While the loss of Berrios is still tough to deal with, the Royals are just one game away from reaching their goal. With a deep and talented team, the Royals are ready to bring it home for their teammate, who desperately wishes she could be out on the court going to battle with them.

“We’ve got a deep bench,” McDonald said. “We’ve got a deep team. I feel the loss of J (Janessa) on the court. I know we all do. It’s not just because she was a good player. It’s because she’s our friend and our teammate. It’s just looking over and not seeing her on the court. I definitely think that those two stepping up has shown how talented of a group of girls that we are. It’s just one more reason to go all the way. I know she still wants this as bad as we do.”

“It’s everything,” Hoese added. “We grew up together playing, so the idea of not playing with her in our last game coming up is tough. She’s still with us and cheering.”

The Royals will take on No. 2 Totino-Grace in the Section 5AA title game Saturday, Nov. 3 at Academy of Holy Angels. A win would send the Royals back to the state tournament for a second-straight season, and keep this team together, along with Berrios, to finish off their goal.

“I think it’s really hard for her right now to sit here and watch,” Raser said about Berrios. “At the same time, she wants this just as much as the rest of them do. These girls want it for her. It looks so different to them, but they want it more.”

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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Crusaders shake off slow start to sweep Knights

MAYER – It wasn’t the start the Mayer Lutheran volleyball team was looking for, but it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish.

With some new players getting their first taste of postseason action, the Crusaders came out of the gates slow. They quickly turned that around as they relied on their veterans to advance with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-13, 25-13) victory in the Section 2A North quarterfinals Thursday night.

“At first, we were very shaky,” Mayer Lutheran coach Joelle Grimsley said. “We had a lot of errors on our side of the net. It was our first game of being in the postseason. I kind of expected that, but we slipped a little bit in that first set.”

With several players getting their first taste of the postseason, Grimsley began to rely on her veteran leaders down the stretch in set one. Olivia Tjernagel, Claudia Stahlke, and Symone Jopp stepped up their games, making sure the Knights didn’t steal set one and gain some momentum.

“They’re kind of our go-to girls,” Grimsley said. “They have been all year. It’s good to see them up there. Our setters are getting them the ball and they’re taking over.”

With a slow start behind them, it was all Mayer Lutheran in the final two sets. The Crusaders used hot starts in each set to pull away from the upset-minded Knights, to advance to the Section 2A North semifinals. Mayer Lutheran will face Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Tuesday, Oct. 30 at New Ulm High School at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals. GFW knocked off No. 3 MN Valley Lutheran 3-1 Tuesday night as the No. 6 seed.

“Every one,” Grimsley said about the mindset. “That’s all we talk about. It’s one game at a time. One set at a time. Now we will look forward to Tuesday and work in that one.”

Look for the rest of the story, as well as more HJ sports coverage, in the Friday, Nov. 2 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.




Mayer Lutheran 3, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 0

Cleveland 3, New Ulm Cathedral 1

BOLD 3, Sleepy Eye Public 0

GFW 3, MVL 1


(4) Cleveland vs. (1) BOLD, 6 p.m (at New Ulm HS)

(6) GFW vs. (2) Mayer Lutheran, 7:30 p.m. (at New Ulm HS)


W-E-M 3, LCWM 0

St. Clair 3, Martin County West 0

Alden-Conger 3, Springfield 0

Mt. Lake/Comfrey 3, NRHEG 1


(4) Mt. Lake/Comfrey vs. (1) W-E-M, 6 p.m. (at St. Peter HS)

(3) St. Clair vs. (2) Alden-Conger, 7:30 p.m. (at St. Peter HS)


Maple Lake 3, Spectrum 0

HLWW 3, Little Falls 0

St. Cloud Cathedral 3, Holdingford 0

Foley 3, Dassel-Cokato 1

Annandale 3, Pierz 0

Albany 3, Rocori 0

Sauk Centre 3, Zimmerman 0

Melrose 3, Milaca 2

SECTION 6AA SCHEDULE – Tuesday, Oct. 30

(All Games at 7 p.m.)

(9) Melrose at (1) St. Cloud Cathedral

(5) Maple Lake at (4) Foley

(6) HLWW at (3) Annandale

(7) Albany at (2) Sauk Centre


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Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports