For Minnesota State senior Morgan Olson, a summer trip to Brazil was a great experience.
It was also a frightening 10 days, joining a group of Division II volleyball players and representing the United States in a series of competitions.
“It was really, really good,” Olson said, preparing to start a workout at Bresnan Arena late last week. “But playing with a bunch of girls I was not familiar with, that definitely took me out of my comfort zone. It was scary, but now I’ve gotten to know them and I still stay in contact with them.”
Olson, a hitter, is one of the senior leaders on the Mavericks’ volleyball team, which has played a couple of preseason exhibition matches so far. It’s a veteran group with all the starters back from last season, when Minnesota State went 18-11 and finished in seventh place in the tough Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference with an 11-9 record.
“Everyone is so excited to get started,” Olson said. “We have everyone back, and we added some amazing young players. It’s going to be exciting to watch us grow. I really think this can be our year.”
In May, Olson and teammate Mara Quam were invited to join a group of American players in a 10-day tour of Brazil, playing matches against professional and club teams from that volleyball-intense South American country.
“It’s such an honor to be invited, and it’s nice to see that your work has been recognized,” Mavericks coach Lori Rittenhouse-Wollmuth said. “She learned different styles, different tactics. When you see the growth she’s made since she was a freshman, it’s been fun to watch.”
Olson was a first-team all-conference selection and third-team All-American last season, making 468 kills, the second-best single season in program history. She had 10 or more kills in 27 of 29 matches, with a career-high 25 kills in a match against Upper Iowa.
She will be joined in the front row by senior middle blocker Anissa Janzig, who led the team with 89 blocks and was third with 171, and senior blocker Ashton Lee had 144 kills and 81 blocks.
Junior hitter Alivia Garbe had 338 kills and 326 digs, senior hitter Joie Veldman had 119 kills and 166 digs and sophomore Dana Schindler made 143 kills.
Quam, a junior led the team with 551 digs. Junior Micayla Porter had a team-high 771 assists, and junior Lauren Lowry had 546.
There’s enough depth and options at each position that Rittenhouse-Wollmuth may end up determining the lineup based on matchups.
“This is a fun, talented group,” Rittenhouse-Wollmuth said. “I’m not even sure if we’ll use a 5-1 (offense) or a 6-2.”
The Mavericks were picked to finish sixth in the Northern Sun coaches preseason poll. That may not sound like much, but four Northern Sun teams made it to the NCAA tournament last season. Rittenhouse-Wollmuth is hoping a tough nonconference schedule helps the Mavericks move up a couple of spots in the league.
“Tough matches is what we need,” Olson said. “They show you what you need to focus on and what you’re strengths are. Our conference is tough. You play a tough team every night.”
The Mavericks open the season Friday and Saturday at the Barry University Invitational at Miami.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.