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Bulldogs should thrive due in part to Hinsch's return

Minnesota Duluth coach Jim Boos said it was a bit unnerving to go into last season with little experience at setter. Setter is the glue that holds the rest of the team, the proverbial quarterback of the offense, and while Boos liked what he saw i...

Minnesota Duluth coach Jim Boos said it was a bit unnerving to go into last season with little experience at setter.

Setter is the glue that holds the rest of the team, the proverbial quarterback of the offense, and while Boos liked what he saw in preseason practice, he had no idea how that would play out the rest of the year.

Turns out, just fine.

Sophomore setter Ashley Hinsch returns to lead the Bulldogs into their season opener against Wheeling Jesuit on Friday in the West Florida Opening Weekend Tournament in Pensacola, Fla. UMD, ranked fourth in NCAA Division II, was set to fly out this morning.

"The setting position is really important, so if I'm not doing well, all the hitters are going to have a hard time," Hinsch said. "I've just been trying my best and improving as much as I can. I'm definitely a lot smarter this year. I have more experience, and that helps a lot. I have more confidence."

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As a true freshman last fall, Hinsch won a position battle with sophomore Jaclyn Barrette. Hinsch went on to finish with a team-high 1,133 assists.

"Coming in I was hoping to get the spot, but I knew I had to earn it," Hinsch said. "I was really going to have to work for it, and eventually I got it. Now, I'm just trying to build on that."

UMD has high expectations after returning nearly its entire squad from a team that went 29-5 and earned a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title last season. The team that has consistently stood in the Bulldogs' way, however, has been Concordia-St. Paul, the unprecedented six-time defending national champions.

"We've got more returning starters back than any other team in the conference, so that should only help," Hinsch said. "We're always looking to take it that extra step. We want to get past Concordia."

Junior All-American Kate Lange returns at outside hitter after finishing second in the nation with nearly five kills per set, while sophomore Mariah Scharf and junior Katie Ledwell also return along the outside.

Monica Turner returns at middle blocker, while junior Jessica Zieman and redshirt freshman Sydnie Mauch are competing for the second middle position.

Junior Julie Rainey goes into her third year as the starting libero while Hinsch is back at setter.

At 5-foot-10, Hinsch has a height advantage over other setters, and that can help along the net and make it harder for opposing hitters to key on her.

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"From a blocking perspective, a smaller setter can be a bit of a liability," UMD coach Jim Boos said. "It doesn't mean you can't make up for it in other ways, but it makes it harder. Ashley gives us a little more versatility and flexibility in terms of what we're able to do. Her athleticism shows itself in all the different aspects of the game."

Hinsch was a volleyball and basketball standout for Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School near Rochester, Minn. In volleyball, she did it all, excelling along the next and back row. In basketball, she was a 1,000-point scorer as a point guard. It's those same skills as facilitator of the offense that suit well on the volleyball court.

Boos said Hinsch is on target to have the kind of career of former UMD setting greats, such as four-year starters Greta Iisakka (2001-04) and Katie Gangelhoff (2005-08) and three-year starter Eleena Iisakka (2008-11)

"Ashley is probably the best combination of athleticism and setting ability that we've had," Boos said. "I've had some really players with solid hands and setting ability, and a Katie Gangelhoff, who was an incredible athlete, but Ashley has the strongest potential in terms of the overall package you're looking for. She's got a lot of growing to do before she gets to that point, but the raw clay is certainly there."

Saints young but talented

St. Scholastica is young and relatively inexperienced after graduating Anna Zyvoloski.

Zyvoloski, who earned second team All-American honors in 2012, marking the highest NCAA honor in program history, joins Dana Moore's staff as an assistant this year.

The Saints are off to a 2-2 start going into this weekend's Whitworth Tournament in Spokane, Wash. St. Scholastica's home opener isn't until Sept. 28 against Crown.

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Senior Kayla Horbacz (42 kills), juniors Erika Birkeland (123 assists, 31 digs) and Tannyr Heyl (42 digs), sophomores and Kortney Morrin (38 kills, 42 digs) and Gloria Ohaju (33 kills) of Duluth Central, and freshman Alex Barsody (38 digs) are among the statistical leaders this season.

One of the bonding activities the team took part in this offseason was volunteering as part of Wednesday Night at the Races last week on Park Point.

UWS off to strong start

Wisconsin-Superior is off to a 4-0 start for the second straight season going into this weekend's Macalester Invitational in St. Paul.

Coach Lynne Deadrick goes into her 11th season having more wins (146) than any other coach in program history.

The Yellowjackets' 19 wins last season were the most since winning 21 matches in 2007. They are looking to qualify for their first postseason since 2008 but will need to overcome the loss of nine players from 2012.

Setter Keely Deadrick of Esko, Lynne's daughter, was a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honorable mention as a sophomore last fall after finishing in the top ten in the conference in service aces per set and assists. Teammate Jessica Dvergsten finished in the top 10 in attack percentage.

Deadrick helped pace the Yellowjackets to a strong season-opening tournament last weekend in Texas with 144 set assists, six aces and 45 digs. Seniors Brooke Vonasek (39 kills, 17 blocks), Jessica Zimmerman (33 kills, 48 digs) and Kitty Tynen (45 kills, 46 digs) also had great weekends. Floodwood's Alissa Autio added 31 kills and Deer River's Lauren Peterson chipped in with 67 digs in a promising start.

Thunder look to compete

Coach Laura Sylvester has only eight players on the roster, with outside hitter MaKayleigh Cahoon of Cromwell being the lone returning player from last season.

Outside hitter Hannah Wojtowicz of Proctor and middle hitter Jaelisa Northrup of Cloquet have played well early.

The Thunder's home opener is Friday against Hibbing Community College.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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