After honing her skills on the junior varsity last year, senior Ana Christofferson will get the title of Miss Versatility on this season's Mankato East volleyball team.
Christofferson will play a trio of roles as the Cougars seek to improve on last year's 12-15 overall record and 7-9 Big Nine Conference mark under first-year coach Dan Blasl.
Christofferson will see action as a setter, libero and left-side back-row player.
"I love Ana's hustle; she flies around to cover the court," Blasl said. "I call her our secret weapon because she has that never-ending desire for the ball and chases it down by throwing her body all over the floor."
Blasl said Christofferson's efforts have rubbed off on her teammates.
"When you hear a thump, it's usually Ana laying out on the floor," the coach said. "I just love her tenacity and how she chases the ball down. I think she lets her play on the floor tell the other athletes that, 'This is who I am and that's what you should be doing too.' She's a great talker when she steps on the court, and she's really fit in."
While there's no statistics to provide, Christofferson's learning experience a year ago has carried over into plenty of enthusiasm and promise for the upcoming campaign which begins tonight when the Cougars host Red Wing.
"I'll play where ever we need help so I can fill in a lot of areas," Christofferson said. "It's great to have multiple abilities to help the team out. I like to keep everyone positive. My theory is that you have to always try your hardest, so I am always on the floor to get balls, making sure every point is well earned. It's a give-a-100-percent type of game for me."
Christofferson is one of just two seniors on the roster. Defensive specialist Kiana Phillips is the other.
"I am always hustling to the ball to get it back up so somebody else can finish the play off," Christofferson said. "It's kind of hard now because I am learning three different positions. I hope the younger players can look to the seniors (defensive specialist Kiana Phillips and her) and see that even though you might not play the entire game, you still have a major role on the team."
East returns five regulars led by sophomore outside hitter Mackenzie Schweim, who belted 117 kills and fired 19 service aces. Junior middle hitter Maddie Clarke recorded 96 kills and 17 ace serves, while junior outside hitter Rachel Clifford totaled 89 kills and 14 ace serves. Sophomore middle hitter Lexi Karge added 87 ace hits while junior libero Taylor Swalve came up with 187 digs and 24 service aces.
"Last year was a lot of fun, but as a first-year head coach I learned a lot," said Blasl, who has been with the Cougars' program for 12 years. "The learning curve is pretty steep so I am excited about this year and at knowinig what is coming up. We have players returning that know what we're looking for in the program and the kind of offense we're running."
Blasl said the team's communication is already improved from last season, too.
"I think they feel more confident in what we're trying to do on the court so I expect big things by taking baby steps forward," he said. "I think the kids feel good about the system we're trying to run in trying to a more up-tempo offense. We have a lot of energy and power on the team. I really believe our their confidence level has improved remarkably from where it was at the end of last year."
Blasi indicated that juniors Ellen Witte and Kailee Magaard are dueling for the No. 1 setter spot. Phillips and junior Kiaya Hoffner will add depth in the back row as defensive specialists, while junior right-side hitter Anna Lancaster will bring some punch up front.
"This team is very close since most of us have played together year around," Christofferson said. "We're very trustworthy with each other and we keep a positive mindset. We have a lot of inner communication and trust in each other."