There have been flashes of major potential shown when the St. Croix Central volleyball team has taken the court in its early-season tournaments.
If the Panthers can become more consistent in playing at that level, they could become a factor in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference this season.
This is the second year of the Panthers competing under the dual coaching system, with Julia Foley and Laura Lee sharing the varsity coaching duties. The coaches worked to make the Panthers a team that was stronger in its fundamental skills last season. With most of the players returning from last year's team, the coaches are expecting to see a progression in the team's skills.
"This is a good group of girls," Foley said. "They respect each other and they want to learn. When they get fired up, they can do some wonderful things."
The Panthers are led by senior Kayla Pabst. Fully recovered from knee surgery last winter, Pabst is one of the strongest girls in the conference. It shows in her hitting and in her serving.
"She's a powerhouse," Foley said.
Another senior returning to the lineup is Ayla Granberg. Last year Granberg served as the team's defensive specialist. This year the coaches wanted her on the court all the time, so she's been converted into a rightside hitter.
"Ayla has great passing skills," Foley said.
A player who will see action in a variety of roles in senior Melissa Brunshidle. The coaches like her smarts and knowledge of the game so she will be the team's top reserve at several positions.
Senior Nicole Nogal will be another of the team's outside hitters. Nogal is a skilled hitter and she has the quickness to be a key factor in the back row for the Panthers.
There is more front line talent from the junior class. Junior Madison Malecek returns as a middle hitter, where her height and long reach make her an impactful player.
Abby Harrington is another junior playing in the middle. She uses quickness and jumping ability to be a hitting threat. She also adds a dimension to the team with her jump serve.
Junior Katie Kolakowski is another of the team's left-side hitters. She is another of the Panthers who puts a big charge into her serves.
Breanna Danielson will also be attacking from the left side. She's one of the team's smaller hitters, but she hits the ball with power and her quickness can be a valued asset.
The team's libero is junior Sadie Buckel. With her quickness, she's ideally suited for the position.
Haylee Hawke will be the starting setter in the Panthers' 5-1 attack, with Marissa Hill as her backup.
"Haylee really has superb accuracy with her sets and she does a great job on defense," Foley said.
Jami Ruvelson will be splitting time between the varsity and junior varsity. She is being groomed to be one of the team's right-side hitters.
The Panthers played in a pair of tournaments last week to start their season. They won twice in a tournament at Chetek. They lost all three matches in the quad meet the Panthers hosted at Hudson High School. The meet was held in Hudson because the Panthers' gym floor isn't completed after the water damage it incurred this summer.
Despite the three losses on Thursday, the Panthers did show signs of competitiveness. That came out strongest in their second game against Hudson. The Raiders built an early lead. Pabst then got the serve and the Raiders couldn't return the powerful blasts she was sending across the net. Her serving tied the match and it stayed hotly contested until the end, when Hudson won 28-26.
The next action for the Panthers is a quad meet at Ellsworth this Thursday. The Panthers will play their first dual match of the season next Tuesday when they travel to Baldwin-Woodville.