Section 7AAA volleyball preview: 'Hounds have a big hole to fill

Questions remain about how much success the Duluth East volleyball team will have this season, but one thing is for sure: The Greyhounds will have the most athletic student manager in Minnesota.

Duluth East's Elena Lushine
Duluth East senior Elena Lushine, a Division I recruit who will miss this season because of a knee injury, cheers on her team Monday evening. (Bob King /

Questions remain about how much success the Duluth East volleyball team will have this season, but one thing is for sure: The Greyhounds will have the most athletic student manager in Minnesota.

Senior Elena Lushine, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter with a Division I scholarship offer in tow, likely will miss the entire high school season after tearing the anterior and medial collateral ligaments and meniscus in her left knee during a Junior Olympics practice in May.

Lushine, a two-time News Tribune All-Area selection, suffered the injury upon landing after jumping at the net -- an action she has performed thousands of times -- only this time she collapsed to the floor and immediately knew there was a problem.

"I was screaming, and it was really painful at first," said Lushine, who still plans on signing a letter of intent with Northern Iowa in November. "I definitely knew something major was wrong."

A magnetic resonance imaging scan at Essentia Health the next day confirmed the diagnosis. Lushine says doctors have told her they are shooting for a mid-December return to the court, a full month after the state tournament.


That might be enough to derail most teams' plans, but the Greyhounds (22-5 a year ago) say they still expect to contend in Section 7AAA.

"I was very worried because in years past we had based our entire offense on her, but our younger girls have stepped into her position and everyone knows they have to pick it up a little more," senior outside hitter Cassie Chruscielski said.

Chruscielski rejoins senior setters Amanda Stromback and Rachael Herman, senior hitter Nicole Sannes and junior middle hitter Mandy Kurosky in the lineup, while athletic newcomer Megan Bailey will become eligible later this season.

"Maybe it's making our team stronger," first-year coach Ashley Beseman said. "We can't rely on one person, so everyone's getting some experience."

Beseman, a Raymond, Minn., native, graduated from Concordia-Moorhead and begins her first varsity coaching job without the team's best player. Players have no worries that she is able to step in and replace former coach Kevin Flynn.

"She's the perfect fit for our team; she understands how we work," Chruscielski said. "I didn't know what to expect coming into the season, especially after six years in the program with Kevin, but she's done so well and taught us so much in the first couple of weeks."

Beseman is aided by the return of longtime former head coach Pat Pfingsten, who left after the 2003 season, as an assistant.

"I've always been a Greyhound at heart," Pfingsten said. "I've never completely gotten out of the sport and walked away from it, and the opportunity arose (to return)."


East started off on the right note, sweeping Woodbury 3-0 on Monday as Kurosky had 15 kills.

  • Duluth Denfeld coach Kim Swanstrom said rival coaches commented on her team's improved chemistry at a recent jamboree, and Swanstrom is impressed with her players' ability to run a quicker offense. Senior co-captains Kiah Zells and Rebekah Overby and junior co-captain Alexia Klaas team with fellow returnees Sarah Anderson, Dakota Timm and Ashley Fern to give Denfeld a wealth of experience, albeit in difficult Section 7AAA.

  • Superior made history by sweeping its Lake Superior Conference opponents last year, and despite player and coaching losses, the Spartans should be strong again in Wisconsin. Junior hitter Jessica Lindstrom is one of the Northland's top athletes, while setter Alison Wainionpaa and hitter Shannon Johnstad are veterans. New coach Mike Patenaude, who takes over for Lori Keute, is a veteran in volleyball circles as well. Patenaude says his team is poised to win the LSC again. "That is our goal, and it's our goal to go deeper into the playoffs and go to state," he said. "These are all two-, three-sport athletes who work hard in the offseason. I don't have to do a lot of conditioning because these girls are athletes."

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