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Eric Peterson, Published November 10 2010

Peterson: Mix of new, old have Cobbers back in NCAAs

At the start of this season, Concordia head volleyball coach Tim Mosser knew the success of his team would hinge how fast his freshmen would assimilate to the college game.

Meshing the newcomers with the holdovers has been a virtually seamless process for the Cobbers.

“I think the key thing is would they be consistent enough to help us out,” Mosser said. “They’ve shown that they have been. They’ve been pretty darn consistent. We’ve really done almost as well as we could have hoped.”

Four freshmen – Alison Bruggeman, Brooke Tastad, Kayla Hampton and Katie Christensen – have filled key roles for the Cobbers, helping the team earn a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament.

Concordia (24-6) plays Whitworth (17-6) at 12:30 p.m. Friday in the opening round at St. Thomas.

“After the first couple of games, we knew that these freshmen could play and they could play at the high level with us,” Concordia junior outside hitter Jenna Green said.

“That just made a world of difference. We didn’t always have to rely on the same people. We could look to the freshmen.”

Mosser knew he could count on a talented junior class that includes Green, who ranks second on the team with 3.57 kills per set.

Junior middle hitter Katie Vohnoutka leads the team with 3.64 kills per set.

Green and Vohnoutka, along with hitter Ashley Beseman and setter Amy Sykora, coincidentally, were freshmen the last time the Cobbers made the NCAA tournament in 2008.

That team made a Sweet 16 run that season.

“They have senior-like experience because they have playoff experience and have that hunger,” Mosser said of his juniors. “They wanted to go back.”

The Cobbers don’t have a senior on their roster and two sophomores – libero Rachel Wiinanen and setter Danelle Loomis – are also part of the team’s rotation.

Even with that lack of seniors, Concordia has been able to put together extended runs of success.

The Cobbers have three winning streaks of at least four matches this season, having won 14 of 15 matches in one stretch.

Concordia has won 12 of its previous 14 matches heading into the NCAA tournament.

“I’ve very pleased to put together the season we have so far as young as we are and counting on as many freshmen as we have is really quite remarkable,” Mosser said.

The regional the Cobbers are in features two other Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams in St. Olaf and St. Thomas.

While Concordia is a combined 0-3 vs. those two teams, Mosser thinks his team has the potential to make it out of the first weekend.

“This is a very winnable region,” Mosser said. “I really believe that there is an 80 percent chance or better that an MIAC team is going to get out of this regional and go to the Elite Eight. We know that when we play well and are focused we can beat anyone. I really think if we play with our confidence and determination that we can win this regional.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com