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Tom Mix, Published June 17 2012

Some players prepare to close their volleyball careers with All-Star matches

FARGO – With their prep careers already wrapped up, 24 of North Dakota’s top senior volleyball players will have two more nights to compete.

For some, it will be their final volleyball matches. For others, it will be the last matches before competing at the college level.

Those two realities are always the draw of the annual Optimists and ND High School Association All-Star volleyball series. The East and West All-Stars square off at 7 p.m. today at Fargo South High school and again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Bismarck High School.

Bridget Stowers of Central Cass and Carolyn Olson of Grand Forks Red River are coaching the East team. Stanley’s Jessica Niemitalo and Bismarck Century’s Jamie Zastoupil and Sara Bohrer are coaching the West squad.

“We have a lot of players going on to play at the college level,” said Stowers who guided the Squirrels to a Class B state title last fall. “It’s an honor to spend some time with them and learn from them to expand my coaching for next year.”

Of the 24 seniors on the two rosters, 16 are playing college volleyball.

Emily Thompson, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, is committed to play at the University of North Dakota this fall.

“I’m really excited for that,” Thompson said. “It’s a great school and all the girls there are great. I knew I wanted to continue playing somewhere and it all worked out.”

McKenzie Hart of Langdon Area and Whitney Page of Bottineau are walking on at UND. Page, who planning to major in engineering, said playing volleyball was her goal, but wasn’t sure how it would fit with her academic goals.

“Volleyball always has been my favorite sport,” Page said. “School comes first, but they asked me to play even though I couldn’t be on scholarship, but that’s OK.”

Fargo North standout Keli Johnson plans on continuing her volleyball career while majoring in marketing at Minnesota State-Mankato.

“I know a couple of the girls besides myself, are making it to schools beyond this point,” said Johnson who was all-state first-team selection and Class A Senior Athlete of the Year. “Starting here helps us realize how much fun we are going to have in college and what a big opportunity it is for other coaches to notice how well we did in high school.”

Grand Forks Red River, which finished the 2011 season undefeated and won the Class A state title, is represented by outside hitter Annika Strand and setter Shelby Bommersbach. Strand and Bommersbach will be teammates again next fall at Concordia.

“Volleyball is such a fun sport,” Strand said. “It’s always in your heart. You always have a drive to want to excel at it and go to the next level. This is the cherry on top of a perfect senior year.”

“I’ll get a good education at Concordia and also get to play the sport I love,” Bommersbach said. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Tom Mix at (701) 451-5651