The Minnesota high school volleyball season was no sure thing this fall. At first it was slated for a spring start. Then the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors changed course and brought the sport back into the fall, albeit condensed. For volleyball programs around the state, the announcement was welcome news.

In Goodhue however, it meant more than that.

The Wildcats fielded a roster this fall with eight seniors. Getting a chance to finish their high school careers on the court was important for them to feel closure with the program. The story of the eight seniors goes back much further, however, with roots forming in fourth grade.

The seed is planted

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The current eight-person crew was once more than 20-people strong in the early days of playing. As a young kid, playing the sport was fun but getting the chance to be with friends is almost a cut above.

That was the case for senior captain Torrie Rehder. She classified herself as a “softball player” in her younger years but opened up to a world of sports that a lot of her friends played in. Volleyball was one of those.

From there Rehder found herself participating in volleyball camps and clubs, deepening the roots with her teammates that took hold as 10-year-old kids from Goodhue.

With such a large number from the same graduating class in the program, it was inevitable that participation would dwindle as time went on. The key for the coaching staff was finding a role for each athlete so they could continue to grow as volleyball players.

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Throughout the years that meant position changes and learning what strengths each person had as they grew. When she was in middle school, Rehder was a setter with current senior captain and setter Hannah Gadient.

“I realized that if I want to play more, I should probably look at different positions and being not very tall I knew I couldn't quite be a hitter,” Rehder said. “Coach Miss Bauer saw something in me and she threw me up from being an eighth-grade setter to freshman starting varsity as libero who's never been in the back row before.”

“In all honesty, she probably could have played outside for most teams, she can jump out of the gym. She's a great player all-around,” Goodhue head volleyball coach Lindsey Bauer said.

Although she’s been the setter for the past three years, Gadient didn’t get handed the job immediately. She earned her keep that first year as a hitter.

“I was pulled up as an outsider, I had never been a hitter before, I'd always set,” she said.

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“She was one of the best hitters that we had on our team for a very long time,” Bauer said. “But then you see that she's just so natural as a setter, and we couldn't have her anywhere else.”

Rehder and Gadient were the first of the group to get the varsity call-up as freshmen. That next year, they were joined by Arianna Thomforde and Abby Majerus, with Elissa Lodermeier and Madee Benda joining the fray once playoffs began. As juniors one year later, Erynn Schumacher and Kathryn Evans made the leap to give the 2021 class eight on varsity.

Since then, the group has grown into their roles with the team and formed a chemistry on the court that few teams could rival. Rotate one of them out of the front row? No problem, Gadient had capable hands to set to. Lodermeier, Thomforde and Majerus all logged more than 200 kills during their career, while Benda added another 150.

Need to buckle down against a strong offensive opponent? No worries there either since

Thomforde had over 500 digs, and Lodermeier, Majerus and Schumacher all eclipsed 100 digs.

Gadient and Rehder did just fine in their roles as well. The former had 1,368 assists and 365 kills for her career, the latter had 1,443 digs.

Success is built as a team

Since that sophomore season, the team recorded 39 wins — with the latest season being shortened by half the usual amount of games. So success on the court was visible for those who watched. However, it was the stuff that went unseen that Bauer touted the most about this group.

“The encouragement that came from each, they truly wanted to see each other do well,” Bauer said. “And that's huge, you know that's not something we always get with every group that we have come through.”

Rehder echoed that sentiment.

“We know how to talk to each other, just to make sure everyone knows we're all there for them,” she said.

Gadient went one step further.

“I really love that we have all played together for so long because we’ve developed a sort of connection just with each other,” she said. “We know what each other are thinking in a way. We have a level of trust that I think is difficult to come by unless you have had the experience with each other that we’ve had.”

Those friendships crafted are why getting a chance to play this fall wasn’t taken for granted by any of them. They all wanted to play for each other and they all knew that it could end at a moment’s notice.

That came to fruition when the season was cut short after Gov. Tim Walz placed a hold on prep sports while COVID-19 cases around the state rose sharply this fall. Before that Nov. 20 deadline, however, Goodhue squeaked in four matches in four days.

Entering the final match of the season against Lanesboro on Nov. 20, the Wildcats were riding a four-game losing streak. Goodhue had also been without star setter Gadient for the three most recent games.

“Hannah was out with vertigo for a couple games and she wasn’t able to literally leave her bed for days,” Bauer said. “And she was like, ‘I’m going to that final game. I just have to step on the floor with these girls one more time.’”

The chance to play one final time was impossible to pass up — a byproduct of the roots the seniors planted as fourth graders 10 years ago. And what stands above those roots today? What could only be classified as the Goodhue volleyball family tree.