Prep volleyball: Hermantown's Mihalik is unheralded, not unappreciated

Playing a traditionally unheralded position, it's easy to overlook Hermantown libero Kailey Mihalik. It's also dangerous. In volleyball, the big hitters garner most of the attention. For the Hawks, the spotlight typically shines on juniors Sierra...

Hermantown libero Kailey Mihalik (8) bumps the ball during the Section 7AA final against Rush City on Saturday. (Clint Austin /

Playing a traditionally unheralded position, it’s easy to overlook Hermantown libero Kailey Mihalik.

It’s also dangerous.

In volleyball, the big hitters garner most of the attention. For the Hawks, the spotlight typically shines on juniors Sierra Bolen and Ellie Gamradt, plus versatile senior Jordyn Thomas. Mihalik’s role might not be as glamorous as those of her teammates, but it’s no less important.

“She would rather have someone else get the glory any day,” Hermantown coach Sue Wasbotten said Tuesday afternoon before underscoring Mihalik’s value. “Without her, we would have nothing.”

That’s because Mihalik solidifies the Hawks’ defense. As Hermantown streaked to its second consecutive Section 7AA title last week, a familiar sequence took shape - Mihalik dig, Thomas set, Bolen kill. The second two parts wouldn’t be possible without the first.


It’s a recipe the Hawks (27-3) hope to utilize in their Class AA state tournament opener tonight vs. Kasson-Mantorville (21-11). The quarterfinal tips off at 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“That’s what we like to try and make happen,” said Thomas, a skillful passer who also has 216 kills. “When we do, good things come our way.”
Mihalik was stuck behind standout Kylie Hoff a year ago. Consequently, she served as the team’s defensive specialist, which curtailed her playing time. With Hoff graduating, Mihalik slid from the outside back row to the middle, giving her more ground to cover. She’s relishing the added responsibility.

“I enjoy having more of a leadership role on the court,” Mihalik said.

Naturally soft-spoken, the 5-foot-6 senior lets her game speak volumes. Mihalik is always in control. That’s no small feat when you’re constantly digging out opposing hitters’ blasts.

Mihalik’s 443rd dig of the season started Hermantown’s final point in a thrilling, five-game win over Rush City in Saturday’s section final. Fittingly, it went to Thomas, then to Bolen.

Match point.

Wasbotten says Mihalik has improved every night. She waited her turn at libero, and has seized the chance. The coach is accustomed to having more vocal players at the position, but what Mihalik lacks in sound, she makes up for with smarts.

“The best part is she does not get riled up,” Wasbotten said. “She can shank a pass, then the next one’s on the money. She’s very volleyball-smart; her volleyball IQ is very good, and that’s a big part of that position.”


Perhaps the only thing flashy about Mihalik on the floor is her white libero jersey.

“She definitely has a quiet side, but when the game’s on the line, you know that she’s the most dependable person to have back there,” Thomas said.

Entering the year, Wasbotten challenged Mihalik to average six digs per game. She’s at 5.2 right now, but that’s more a result of the Hawks’ dominance than anything else. So often, their matches are lopsided. Simply, there haven’t been an abundance of volleys and points with which to pad stats.

In fact, the nailbiter against Rush City was Hermantown’s first five-gamer of the fall.

Aside from her defense, Mihalik has served at a 97-percent clip (391-for-403), with 24 aces.

The Hawks are one of three Northland representatives at the state tournament. Collectively, the trio will try to notch the region’s first win there since Esko in 2011. Even more dubious, no local team has won its quarterfinal since Hibbing in 2009.


Tough draw for Grand Rapids


If Grand Rapids was still floating Sunday morning after its quick dispatch of Cambridge-Isanti in the Section 7AAA championship the night before, all it took to ground the Thunderhawks was a glimpse at the state tournament bracket.

Their reward? A date with top-seeded, nationally ranked and defending champion Eagan (28-1).

Grand Rapids (22-8) will see its second Iowa commit in less than a week in today’s 9 a.m. quarterfinal. The Wildcats’ leader, senior Brie Orr, is headed to the Hawkeyes, where she eventually will be teammates with Claire Sheehan, the Cambridge-Isanti star.

Fellow senior Alyssa Doucette also is destined for Division I (Missouri State). Senior hitter Taylor Olstad will play at Division II St. Cloud State.

There is plenty more talent, but you get the idea.

“We understand that we’re going to have to be close to flawless,” Thunderhawks coach Bryan Fideldy said.

Twenty-two of Eagan’s 28 wins have been sweeps.

Against the Bluejackets on Saturday, the Thunderhawks tailored their game plan around forcing Sheehan’s teammates to beat them. But that won’t be a viable game plan this morning. The Wildcats simply have too many options, too much depth. They can attack defenses in a variety of ways.


Grand Rapids comes in with some momentum, having won its first section title since 2013 despite being a No. 4 seed. Balance is a bonus for the Thunderhawks, with five players totaling at least 100 kills. Their objective today is to focus on themselves, play loose and not dwell on Eagan’s resume.

“The biggest thing for us is to control what we can control, watch our own bobber,” Fideldy said.


Cook County back for more

Longtime Cook County coach Pam Taylor admitted last year that she was starting to wonder if the Vikings ever would qualify for state. With Cook County’s recent swift trek through Section 7A, no state berths in Taylor’s first 32 years as coach has given way to two trips in two years.

The Vikings (22-3) are on a roll, and they open against Caledonia (28-5) at 3 p.m. today in a Class A quarterfinal.

Last November, Cook County took a 25-0 record to Xcel, the state’s last remaining undefeated team. The Meredith Sutton-led Vikings aren’t unblemished this time around, but they haven’t lost since Sept. 17, a string of 17 straight victories.

In St. Paul, Cook County will look to become the first Class A team from the Northland to win a state match since Chisholm in 2007.

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