PREP VOLLEYBALL: Ernhart, Royals shake off slow start in sweep of Big Lake

WATERTOWN – Patience has been the key for sophomore setter Natalie Ernhart. After waiting for her chance to become the go-to player at the setter position for the Watertown-Mayer volleyball team, it’s her job to keep now as she’s become an all-around player for the Royals. Ernhart kept her strong start to the season rolling as she helped the Royals overcome a slow start to pick up a 3-0 (25-23, 25-8, 25-12) victory against Big Lake Tuesday night on their home floor.

“She has done a wonderful job,” W-M coach Andrea Raser said. “She’s getting used to running the court and being the one to tell people what to do, but she’s got hustle and she’s a good setter. She’s athletic. She gets along with her teammates well, and she’s filling in that role quite nicely.”

Ernhart had 24 assists in the sweep for the Royals, but was also an integral part of helping them shake off a slow start in set one.

“It was super important,” Ernhart said about shaking off the slow start. “I think we really got off to a rough start. We just couldn’t find energy right away. During the end of it, it kind of got better, but we did not finish it right away. When the second set started, we finally found that energy which was good. Then we just finished it from there.”

After escaping with a 25-23 win in set one, there was no messing around for the Royals in sets two and three. W-M used big runs early in both, putting Big Lake in catch up mode the rest of the way. While Raser was happy with the way the Royals closed out the match in the final two sets, she knows how important is to come ready to play from the start.

“We have to step on the court right away and be ready to go immediately, no matter who we play,” Raser said. “Every team is going to want to win. No team is going to give you points. You have to earn your own points and not wait for the other team to give it to you.”

The Royals lost four starters from last year’s team that were crucial to their back-to-back state tournament runs. With those players gone, Raser is trying to get her team to understand that they are the go-to players now.

“The girls are still realizing that there it,” Raser said. “There’s a lot of them that were the players that looked up to the other girls that have been playing the last three years. It’s going to take some adjustments to have them realize that they are the it. If they play consistent and play on our side, and play well, they can just play through anything.”

Ernhart has helped the Royals get off to a 3-2 start this season after the win over Big Lake. While she knows it’s tough to replace a three-year setter in Nikki McDonald, she’s accepted her role and has the Royals are poised for another exciting season.

“Some of the girls are used to Nikki McDonald,” Ernhart said. “It’s different for them, but I know that it’s our season now. It’s a new team, and I think that as long as the atmosphere is good, we’ll be fine.”

Being a sophomore and a leader can be a lot to handle for one player. Luckily for Ernhart, she gained valuable experience last season after filling in for McDonald when she got injured.

“Because she had so much playing time last year as far as when Nikki would get hurt, It just helped her to get that feel of how fast the game goes,” Raser said. “It showed her just how much she actually has to talk to her teammates and lead them.”

To this day, Ernhart remembers practicing and working on things with McDonald. She patiently waited her turn to take over the position, while at the same time, soaked things up to get ready for when the job became hers.

“Probably the communication,” Ernhart said about what she learned from McDonald. “She was really good at communicating on and off the court. That was a big thing. Also just strategy with how I hold my hands and stuff. I think that helps. She was really good at coaching which was good. I was nervous last year. Coming into it this year and having that experience made it a lot easier to adjust.”

While Ernhart has fit right in for the Royals at setter, Raser admits this is a different team than the past two seasons. While the love for the game is there, she wants to see her team play with more fire as they get more comfortable at the varsity level.

“This team is such a positive team, but i’m trying to pull that fire out of their belly,” Raser said. “The seniors last year just naturally had that fire. They were just super aggressive and super excited. These girls love playing and they’re excited and positive, and I just want to see that fire a little bit and more feistiness on the court.”

 For the complete story and more HJ sports coverage, check out the Friday, September 6 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.

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