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New era for UMD volleyball

Minnesota Duluth volleyball player Mariah Scharf digs the ball in practice Monday afternoon. Scharf is one of the players who may fill the outside hitter position previously held by Kate Lange, who graduated. (Steve Kuchera /

The 2014 Minnesota Duluth volleyball team lost just one starter from last season, but when that one player is the national player of the year, the program’s all-time leader in kills and arguably the best to ever put on a Bulldogs uniform, it’s no small feat to fill that spot.

Kate Lange did it all.

“You can’t replace Kate, there’s no doubt about it,” UMD coach Jim Boos said Monday at Media Day, just before the team’s first practice. “But someone will be in that role, and their job is to be the best ‘them’ they can be and have everyone else rally around them. We need our players to take their game from last year to a higher level, and if everyone just gets incrementally better, and provides just a little bit more to the collective goal of the team, then we can fill the gap that is going to be there, that void that we have.”

With a 331-60 record in 12 seasons under Boos, the Bulldogs have consistently been able to reload no matter who they’ve lost, and with a 33-3 mark last season, there is plenty of returning talent to work with. UMD was ranked third in the American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA Division II preseason poll released Monday, with seven-time defending national champion Concordia-

St. Paul once again picked to win.

One could argue UMD was the second-best team in the nation during that span, but never was able to get out of the region.

“I think we’re more than ready to stop Concordia’s streak,” UMD outside hitter Katie Ledwell said. “That’s definitely one of our goals. It’s frustrating to not get out of the region and to not have the season we hoped to, but what we accomplished is nothing to be looked down upon. We’ve been very successful. We just need to tweak a couple things to get that finish we’ve been looking for.”

Lange, who had more than twice as many kills as anyone else on the squad last fall, is set to become the first UMD volleyball player to play professionally as she agreed to a deal in France. But as good as Lange was, she was always quick to point out it’s a team game. No player can bump, set and spike the ball themselves.

“Everyone always knew who we were going to go to in crunch time,” said Ledwell, of East Troy, Wis. “I think that can give us an edge this year. We’re going to be more offensively balanced and well rounded. Everyone knows what roles need to be filled, and we’re ready to do that.”

Ledwell and libero Julie Rainey are two of UMD’s five seniors and will serve as captains this fall.

Rainey returns to lead the Bulldogs’ defense. It’s an unsung role, but one she has performed extraordinarily well. She is already the program’s all-time leader in digs and could put up a career mark that will be there for a while. She came in with Lange as a freshman out of Stewartville, Minn., but redshirted.

Junior Ashley Hinsch is an athletic setter, while the Bulldogs are strong up front with 6-foot-2 junior Monica Turner, 5-11 senior Maddy Siroin of Washburn and 6-1 sophomore Sydnie Mauch. Mauch wasn’t an all-conference performer last fall, but played like one at the end of the season, earning all-tournament honors.

Seniors Ledwell and Aly Kujawa, junior Mariah Scharf, sophomore Taylor Wissbroecker and freshman Megan Norby will compete at Lange’s old spot, outside hitter.

Ledwell and Scharf have the most returning experience at the position.

“It’s definitely my goal to start,” said Scharf, of Loretto, Minn. “It’s going to be a battle, but it’s all friendly competition. We all wish each other luck, we all help each other out. We’re competing, but we do it together, to push ourselves and make the team better.

“Concordia knows we’re gunning for them.”

UMD opens the season Sept. 4 at Northern Michigan. UMD isn’t home until Sept. 19 against Southwest Minnesota State and hosts Concordia on Oct. 11.

“That is what the preseason is all about, kind of figuring out who we are,” Boos said. “But what we do in Week 1 and Week 2 of the season might not be the same as what we are doing by the end of November.”