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Chris Murphy, Published November 07 2012

Early start for Underwood volleyball players has paid off

Underwood, Minn. - It was eight years ago that Underwood’s Brianna Fitzgibbons, Carly Masloski and Tara Skauge led a group of fifth-grade girls in a revolution. They wanted volleyball and they wanted it now.

“Every day they went to their teacher (Breck Grove) and asked when they would get to start playing volleyball,” Underwood coach Diane Ross said. “So we got some tournaments together.”

The Underwood then-fifth graders had watched the varsity team qualify for state from 2001 to 2004 and couldn’t wait until seventh grade to begin to follow in the footsteps of their heroes.

“We just watched the older girls and thought it would be fun to start early” Skauge said.

Ross and Grove put together the first fifth and sixth grade squad Underwood had ever had and made the trip to Monticello, Minn., for weekend tournaments to appease the young revolutionaries. Little did Ross know, but those 140-mile weekend trips and hotel stays would begin a journey with that group of girls that would put Underwood back in the state tournament eight years later. The Rockets have come full circle, as they take a 27-4 record into today’s Minnesota Class 1A quarterfinal match versus Southwest Christian at the Xcel Energy Center in the Rockets’ first trip to state since that four-year streak that started it all.

“We started in fifth grade and they were so intense even at that level,” Ross said. “To watch them grow and get better and understand the importance of teamwork is just great.”

It was the camaraderie from those fifth-grade trips that formed a bond between the girls in the Underwood volleyball program that kept them together to experience this dream together as seniors.

“Just to see everything as a team come together is the best feeling,” Skauge said. “Since we started young, we’ve all been really close because of sports. We depend on each other a lot. I remember staying in hotels together and thinking it was the funnest thing ever. We’re kind of a family.”

Not only has the team stuck together, but they’ve improved together. The three seniors hit milestones the way they’ve done everything: together. Masloski got her 1,000th kill, Fitzgibbons got her 1,000th set assist and Skauge got her 1,000th dig this season.

“We’ve all stuck together and continue to work together as a team,” Masloski said. “Going to state is something that we dreamt about and worked for, so we could show everybody who we are.”

Mix in Fitzgibbons, Masloski and Skauge with senior Megan Biegler (who qualified for state in the discus last spring), Karin Mortenson (who was selected to be part of a national honors choir that performed at Carnegie Hall), and Samantha Shaw (who has been the spark off the bench all season), and it’s easy to see that this group won’t stop when it wants something.

Ross is certainly happy she gave in to those fifth-grade girls’ demands.

“What I really like to see is that they all still love the game,” Ross said. “They still love to play. They still show a lot of desire. They’ve come a long ways and not just as players. I’ve had them for a long time. I know how to push their buttons and they know how not to push mine. I’m pretty attached.”

The Underwood seniors aren’t ready to end their time together.

“It’s a dream come true,” Fitzgibbons said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. We worked so hard and long to get here and it’s here. We just want to see how far we can go together.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548