2018 results: 5-4 Mississippi 8 Conference, 16-13 overall. Lost to Andover 3-0 in the Section 7AAA semifinals.
The first two weeks of practice for basically every high school sport is a learning process. Players come and go, as do coaches.
But for this year’s Princeton volleyball team, the “get to know you” period is especially important. That’s because the Tigers only return two players from last year’s 16-13 team and have a new coach in Sarah Rittenhouse. How quickly the team adjusts to a new style will be one of the key factors in a successful season.
The new coach is from White Bear Lake and played volleyball at Southwest State University in Marshall. She spent 14 years as a coach at Omaha North High School – the last eight as head coach.
“I came in this summer, so I had a few workouts to see them,” Rittenhouse said. “In tryouts, I got to see everybody. It’s challenging because it’s very overwhelming when you’re organizing and trying to get prepared. But on the other side, it’s nice to have fresh eyes and see everybody on the same playing field. The ones who have played had to try a little harder because there were no preconceived notions of who is going to what team.
“The biggest challenge was doing as much in the time we had for tryouts to put the kids in the best spot to be successful. They are really positive and they’re team players. They want that feedback from the coach. They’re like sponges. They take it in and are eager to learn.”
The Tigers will be relying on two underclassmen in junior Taylor Mollet and sophomore Faith Zins. They are the lone returning starters and said they are enjoying taking on a leadership role in the early going.
“Everyone is adjusting,” said Zins, a setter and right side hitter. “We lost a lot of seniors, but we’re handling it well. We’re already bonding really well and that will be a strength for us. Being close as a team will help us be competitive.”
“We need to communicate a lot because that will be a key to success for us,” said Mollet, a setter and right side hitter. “I know our coach will lead us to some wins. During the summer, I was kind of nervous to take on a more of a leadership role, but now I’m excited.”
While Rittenhouse had to get know her players and their tendencies quickly, learning about the competition also figures to be a process. St. Michael-Albertville went 9-0 in the Mississippi 8 Conference last year, followed by North Branch at 8-1 and Rogers at 6-3. Princeton and St. Francis tied for fourth at 5-4.
“It’s good and bad that I don’t know much about the competition,” Rittenhouse said. “I haven’t been in Minnesota for a while so I don’t know who is good and who isn’t. So for me, that’s kind of nice. To me, it’s just a name and we play who we play.”
Rounding out the roster are seniors Brenna Herbst (outside hitter), Kaitlyn Matteson (middle/right side hitter), Jayda Peterson (outside hitter), Mackenzee Waytashek (hitter), and libero Grace Erickson; juniors Brynn Papash (setter), Maddy Bassamore (middle hitter), and Gabbi Molitor (middle hitter); and sophomores libero Maddie Wiemann (libero), outside hitter/DS Lauren Wilson (outside hitter).
Where the Tigers finish in the Mississippi 8 is a question mark with so many new faces, but that is not the immediate focus for Rittenhouse.
“We need to hone in our skills, specifically ball control, passing the ball and defensively so we can be in matches,” Rittenhouse said. “But also look at it as ‘hey, we’re kind of the underdog. We had nine seniors. It’s almost a whole new team, but they’re willing to accept that challenge.”
The biggest thing for me is to see improvement from Day 1 to the end of the season. Are we better passers and are we communicating better as a team? If we are, then I’ve done my job. Ideally, winning is great but I don’t know who is who in the conference. My expectations are to work hard and work as a team and rely on ball-control. That will keep us in matches. The kids are very hard-working and respectful. They want to get better.”