Unlike many of her teammates, Minnesota Duluth volleyball player Monica Turner didn’t stay in Duluth to train this past summer.
Instead, she worked at a Cub Scouts camp in Cannon Falls, Minn., but her mind was still focused on volleyball. She got up early before camp started to work out about three times each week and often returned home to New Prague, Minn., to play in Twin Cities volleyball tournaments.
The dedication paid off as Turner and Co. appear a little stronger, a little faster and a little more in sync this fall, and the result is a 9-0 start after a 25-14, 25-18, 25-14 nonconference sweep over Michigan Tech on Tuesday night in the Bulldogs’ home opener before more than 600 fans at Romano Gymnasium.
In perhaps a UMD first, the match was carried live locally on My9 television, with KBJR’s Sarah Wheeler on the play-by-play and St. Scholastica volleyball coach Dana Moore handling the color.
Turner, a sophomore middle blocker, had 13 kills to lead UMD while Bulldogs’ All-American Kate Lange of Hibbing and freshman Sydnie Mauch added 10 apiece. Sophomore setter Ashley Hinsch had 41 set assists while junior Julie Rainey led the defense with 12 digs.
“I thought Monica was very efficient against Tech,” UMD coach Jim Boos said. “These last few matches we’ve been a lot more balanced. We’ve distributed the ball better to other people and that has allowed us to take some of the burden off Kate having to carry the load with 20-plus kills every time. Monica is certainly capable of doing what she did (Tuesday night).”
And that’s making the most of her opportunities.
UMD’s offense runs through Hinsch, but the hard-hitting Lange certainly spearheads the attack.
Lange had a school-record 33 kills in a 3-1 victory over Indianapolis on Friday, but to be more unpredictable, Hinsch needs other hitters to emerge as go-to players. With a lean 6-foot-2 frame and good athleticism, Turner certainly appears to fit the bill.
“It’s great that we can have a player like Katie who can put up numbers like that when we need it, but I was a lot happier on Saturday when Katie had 12 kills and we had three other people with nine or 10,” Boos said. “That tells you we’re moving the ball around, we’re in system and everyone else is helping.
“When we can get Monica in her rhythm like she was against Tech, she can be very effective. She plays like a veteran, that’s for sure.”
It certainly wasn’t UMD’s prettiest match, but part of that had to do with an overmatched yet scrappy Michigan Tech team.
The Huskies (3-6) have struggled in recent years but showed improvement last year under new coach Matt Jennings. Tech’s 12 wins last season were more than the previous two seasons combined.
The Huskies simply made too many hitting errors to keep pace with UMD.
“I said to error on the side of aggression, and we certainly did that. Most of those were errors I could live with, especially against a team like Duluth,” Jennings said. “We’re a real young team, and we’re still trying to figure out our lineup, but we’re starting to find our way.”
The same could be said of Turner.
Turner led the Bulldogs with 100 blocks last season as a true freshman and was second in hitting percentage (.341) and third in kills (282), helping UMD go 29-5 and win a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title.
“Last year was a little scary as a freshman,” Turner said, laughing. “This year, the sophomores know what we’re getting into.”
The Bulldogs, however, were knocked out of the regional playoffs by their nemesis, six-time defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul.
Turner feels UMD has improved enough to knock off the Golden Bears, and if Tuesday was any indication, she might be right. She was nearly flawless, with a .667 hitting percentage and only one attack error.
“This was definitely one of my best matches, and it was great to be home again. That was a big-game crowd,” Turner said. “We’re used to teams trying to knock us off, especially now that we’re the top-ranked team in the nation. We just have to keep fine-tuning, but it’s just the little things. This team has so much potential. The sky’s the limit.”
Boos said he couldn’t recall a UMD volleyball match ever airing live on local television. He planned to watch a recording of the telecast.
“That was pretty neat, but unfortunately, part of me wanted to be at home watching the broadcast,” Boos said with a laugh. “It was exciting. I wish we would have put on a little better performance, but a 3-0 win — we’ll take it.”