Brittany McLean, Erin Slinde and the rest of the 2016 senior class helped the Rosemount volleyball team win a lot of matches over the years.

McLean and Slinde stepped into the varsity lineup as eighth-graders for a sub-.500 Irish team and by the end of the 2015 season the program had amassed an 80-35 record over a four-year period and come within an eyelash of a trip to the state tournament.

Now that talented senior class has moved on, but Rosemount head coach Smokey Vitek believes those players are still having a positive impact on her program as it moves forward.

“I think the last three years our biggest accomplishment is establishing a winning culture. Even though we lost some really big players this past year, our team plays and competes just as well as we did last year,” Vitek said. “We will be a slightly different team, but we still have the expectation of winning and competing. We are confident and driven.”

Those high expectations have been bolstered by the work the Irish’s returning players have put in over the off-season. Many of the players participated in Junior Olympic volleyball and played for Northern Lights and Hammerhead club teams. Several others attended camps and one even spent three weeks in Europe playing in tournaments. The Irish also sent two teams to the University of Minnesota camp.

Vitek said she expects ball control, defense and serve receive to be a strength for this year’s team after seeing returning players Katie Lienemann (captain), Morgan Longhenry and Mari Hinkle in action together.

“All three of them are playing extremely well and would be starting Libero on most teams in the state,” Vitek said. “Not much hits the ground on our side without hard work by the opposing team.”

There’s more work to be done in the front row where McLean, Slinde and several other graduated seniors were all contributors. Anna Wise (captain), Ashley Hanfeldt and Shae Buchman all got some varsity experience last season and several other newcomers, like Katie McLean, Jenna Gutzmacher, Emily Udermann, Abby Campbell and Lauren Van Sickle, have shown potential.

“Our hitters need to be more patient and consistent. At team camp we gave away too many points due to hitting errors,” Vitek said. “We also need to improve our blocking. Our middle need to be quicker and our outsides need to do a better job setting the block.”

One thing that will help the new crop of Irish attackers is the experience provided by returning setter Maddie Mackinac.

“She was strong last year but she has improved both physically and mentally,” Vitek said. “With such an inexperienced group of attackers, her experience will be very helpful.”

Vitek knows her team faces a tough road with the likes of defending state champion Eagan, Lakeville South, Prior Lake and improved Shakopee and Farmington teams, but she is hopeful the Irish can carry on the program’s recent tradition and reach 20 wins for the fourth straight season.

“I definitely think we can have another 20-win season. We will be a different team than last year, but strong again,” she said. “It’s never an easy day in the South Suburban Conference.”