The New Life Academy Eagles were just 13-17 last season and lost most of the key players off that team.

Still, New Life head coach Wally Bomgren likes his team's chances.

"Most of our starters are gone - eight girls who played regularly," Bomgren said.

Despite the inexperience, the Eagles are still gaining the attention of other teams in the state.

"But even with that we are ranked No. 1 in our section," Bomgren said. "We have a No. 14 rank in the state for our small school size. So we're excited about that."

The Eagles were 6-2 in conference play, then went on a tear in section play, sweeping St. Paul Harding and St. Paul Central before losing to Hill-Murray in the section semifinals.

New Life will be a young team this fall, with just one senior on a nine-player varsity roster. She's a good one, however, in returning three-year varsity starter Nadia Nelson.

"I think we're going to be young, scrappy and enthusiastic," Nelson said. "I can honestly say that these girls will definitely rise to the challenge and be their best."

Also returning are junior captain and outside hitter Kate Rogers and junior setter Bethany Breiholz.

One big reason the Eagles are ranked No. 1 in their section is that they got moved down from Class 2A to Class 1A.

"We were only a couple students over when we were 2A for just two years," Bomgren said. "There's a couple of key teams in that section that are rebuilding."

New Life has a history of playing well in the playoffs, having reached the section finals or semifinals six straight seasons. Bomgren expects this year's team to be there at the end again.

"The program's in great shape, even though we lost 14 seniors in the last two years," said Bomgren, who is starting his eighth year coaching the Eagles.

One young player Bomgren is excited about is 5-foot-11 eighth-grader Makenzie Roettger, who will start for the Eagles.

New Life also got a rare transfer who will start on this year's team in sophomore outside hitter Elli Wiertsema.

The Eagles won't be a big team this season, averaging just 5-foot-8 height in the lineup.

"We're a little short," Bomgren said. "Defense is clearly our strength. I'd say our blocking is probably our weakest point right now but our ball receive and our ball handling in the back row should be very good. It might be the best I've seen in my eight years here."

Serving should also be a strength, Bomgren added.

The Eagles should have a pretty good idea of how good they'll be this season after competing in challenging tournaments in North St. Paul, River Falls and Blaine.

The Eagles are scheduled to play at Hastings on Tuesday, Aug 29, in the opener.