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Surprising Hunters flirt with conference title

Denfeld's first-year head volleyball coach Gretchen Aase had no intention of winning the Lake Superior Conference this season. The UMD graduate was expecting to rebuild the Hunters, who were hit with heavy graduation losses following the 1999 season.

Denfeld's first-year head volleyball coach Gretchen Aase had no intention of winning the Lake Superior Conference this season.
The UMD graduate was expecting to rebuild the Hunters, who were hit with heavy graduation losses following the 1999 season.
But her team had other plans, and last Thursday they proved it, climbing ahead of the previously-undefeated Cloquet Lumberjacks with a 3-0 win which boosted the Hunters into first place.
"It's really unexpected," said Aase. "These girls are great. We're peaking now, and we're really playing as a team."
That was evident over the weekend as the Hunters stuck together through some difficult non-conference matches at the Duluth East Invitational Tournament, losing to North Branch, and Tartan before beating Crookston. The Hunters then finished the grueling day by losing to the Greyhounds.
"The players are still upbeat," said Aase. "They knew it would be tough, and now they can refer back to it and use it as an example."
So far this season, the Hunters have drawn their power from unique sources, namely setters Cheryl Upton and Allison O'Hara. The duo has provided Denfeld with quick lateral movement, accurate passing and much more.
"They've both played a lot of volleyball, and they've held the team together," said Aase.
Upton has gone truly above and beyond, leading the team in kills from her spot in the middle as well. This, however, is only surprising in a traditional volleyball sense. One of the Hunters' strengths this season has been the team's ability to accept new roles and find ways to be successful in each of them. Upton's success is just one example of that.
"Our girls are very flexible," said Aase. "Every one of them can play every position."
That has made Aase's job of teaching the intricacies of the 6-2 offense much easier. And now, with the surprising Hunters in first place, Aase will have the opportunity to teach the team some new tricks as the playoffs draw near.
"We're still going to be pushing them on defense," she said. "But we might try a few different offenses and maybe some quicker sets. We're not too tall, so we have to rely on speed."
But no matter how far the Hunters go in the section playoffs, the season will have already been deemed a success for Aase, who has managed to reload instead of rebuild in 2000.

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