Duluth East volleyball back on track after back-row switch produces 11th straight win
ESKO -- Faye Lafferty doesn't mind the floor burns and shin bruises that come with being a libero. After three-plus years of setting her Duluth East volleyball teammates in the front row, the senior recently donned the red jersey and moved to the...
ESKO -- Faye Lafferty doesn't mind the floor burns and shin bruises that come with being a libero.
After three-plus years of setting her Duluth East volleyball teammates in the front row, the senior recently donned the red jersey and moved to the less glamorous back row.
It's hard to argue with the results.
East defeated Esko, 25-23, 23-25, 25-11, 25-18, in a battle of the News Tribune's top-ranked large and small schools on Tuesday night, its 11th consecutive triumph since a shaky performance at the Shakopee Invitational caused coach Kevin Fynn to seek a change.
"Faye might be the best athlete that I've ever coached," Flynn said. "She's one of those rare kids who is as tough as nails and nothing rattles her. Our libero position wasn't bad, but I felt as we went through the season we could probably go from being a good defensive team to a great defensive team with her in the back row.
"She's probably our best setter and our best defender. So it was a choice of which one do you want her at? We gave it a try and had some success, so we've kept on doing it."
The Greyhounds' run has included wins over Grand Rapids, Virginia, Hibbing and finishing first at its own invitational last weekend. East (15-3) beat Esko and highly touted Hill-Murray 2-1 in the semifinals and finals, respectively.
Even Lafferty acknowledges the team is playing better with her in the back row and that new setter Amanda Stromback is instrumental in the team's success.
"I don't think we would have won that tournament if I was setting," Lafferty said. "You have to be able to dig the ball against really good teams or you're not going to win. And (Amanda) is getting a lot better at setting."
Lafferty played back row with Minnesota North's Junior Olympics team. She said Minnesota North coach Christyn May, a Minnesota Duluth assistant, suggested the move to Flynn shortly after the Shakopee tournament.
"Some players bought into it right away and others maybe said, 'What are we doing?'" Flynn said. "But Faye wholeheartedly wanted to do it. If she hadn't bought into it and wanted to do it, we never would have done it."
The 5-foot-5 Lafferty was offered a scholarship by the University of Mary, a Division II school in Bismarck, N.D., but turned it down. She is leaning toward attending Division III Wisconsin-Stout and playing in the back row.
"I like it a lot more," she said. "I like diving around, it's fun."
Lafferty dove plenty Tuesday as the Eskomos (16-3) targeted her with their serves. She finished with a team-high 20 digs. Elena Lushine had 14 kills and Sadie Kunst added 13, while Stromback totaled 35 set assists.
After the teams split the first two games -- as they did Saturday -- East took command with a 20-7 run to end game three. The fourth game was in doubt until Kunst earned nine straight points on her serve to put East ahead 20-13.
"You can't come out a loser in this match," Flynn said. "It's good for us to play a local team that has as much firepower and skill as they do. It's a great matchup.
"They beat us last year on our home court, so it's only right that we return the favor."
Duluth East def. Esko 25-23, 23-25, 25-11, 25-18 -- E: Stephanie Miller 25SA; Stephanie Bandelin 14K, 4B; Amanda Belden 6K, 4AS; Kallyn Knutson 16D. DE: Elena Lushine 14K; Sadie Kunst 13K, 8AS; Faye Lafferty 20D; Amanda Stromback 9D, 35SA.