Mankato West volleyball preview

Senior Zoe Koberoski prepares to bump the ball during a recent Mankato West volleyball practice. Koberoski expects to have a bigger role in the Scarlets’ lineup this season as a defensive specialist.

After getting her feet wet a year ago, Mankato West senior defensive specialist Zoe Koberoski is ready to dive in as the Scarlets prepare for Saturday’s season-opening volleyball match against Marshall in Redwood Falls.

With the graduation of defensive ace Yana Carrera, Koberoski will see an expanded role in the back row after coming up with 61 digs last season. Sophomore Abbi Stierlen will be the Scarlets’ libero, with Koberoski expected to be a lifeline for head coach Stacy Jackson.

“Zoe has always been a strong defensive presence for us,” Jackson said. “She worked really hard in the off-season and I feel she’s a little quicker. She’ll spend more time on the court helping us out in the back row.

“She’s super encouraging and is always asking how she can improve and help other people get better. We have a lot of seniors who lend a leadership role in different ways, and she is one of them.”

Koberoski took an interest in volleyball at a young age, hanging around the Madelia gym where her mother was a coach. She’s played on a variety of summer club teams over the years and is looking forward to one final go-around with the Scarlets.

“I am a very positive player and have good communication with my team,” she said. “I got in now and then last year, but I feel I am helping the team out more this year. I am really excited being that its my last year. I am ready to step into a bigger role since we lost some good players from last year. I used to struggle with my passing and confidence, but through the years I’ve really improved my confidence.

“A lot of the younger girls are really stepping up so I think we can be really good. I love to win and I bring that to the court every day. I still want to improve on the basics, moving my feet and being faster on the court. Even though we lost some of our big players, we have some younger girls stepping up and filling those roles. We need to be positive with ourselves have both a strong offense and defense.”

West returns five regulars in senior setter/hitter Kayla Grunst, senior outside hitter Emily Bergeman, senior middle hitter Ellie Blackman, junior middle hitter Mattea Burmeister and junior setter Genesis Jackson.

Grunst’s numbers were impressive last season, collecting 461 set assists, 62 kills, 58 blocks and 15 ace serves. Bergeman belted 98 kills to go along with 27 blocks and 120 digs. Blackman registered 85 kills and 58 blocks, while Burmeister banged 81 kills and totaled 86 blocks. Jackson delivered 149 set assists.

“We lost a few big hitters and losing Yana in the back row was huge,” coach Jackson said. “Looking forward, we have some younger girls who are looking promising in the back row. We’ve got a lot of people fighting for spots. In the past, it has been people kind of locked into spots, which can be good. But it can also be kind of stagnant if you don’t have to work for it.”

Six more players — senior right-side hitter Andie Grundhoffer, senior outside hitter Emily Svenson, junior middle hitter Emily Fitterer, junior right-side hitter Megan Meyer, junior outside hitter Mayla Hanson and sophomore outside hitter Grace Banse — are also in the mix for playing time.

“We should be a strong defensive team,” Jackson said. “Everybody is trying to earn a spot, and that is healthy. We’ve got a lot of good passers and we’ve got good movement going on.”

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