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Kimball/White Lake’s Kelli Steffen (2) and Brooklyn Donald (12) jump to block Sanborn Central/Woonsocket’s Morgan Selland’s spike during a high school volleyball match earlier this season in Woonsocket. (Aaron Saunders/Republic)

WiLdKats experience success in first year of co-op

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Kimball and White Lake residents have much to be excited about as the WiLdKats have burst onto the state volleyball scene in the first year of their co-op.

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This is the first time White Lake has qualified for the state volleyball tournament, while Kimball is returning for the first time since 2008. Kimball has qualified for state five times with its best finish as consolation champion in 2005 and 2008.

“We had a pretty good month of October and beat some very good teams and the hype kind of grew,” Kimball Athletic Director Thomas Konechne said of the team’s success in the last month. “People started to realize the chances of our team and see what they could accomplish.”

The No. 7 WiLdKats open up the Class B state volleyball tournament against No. 2 Arlington at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at the Huron Arena in Huron.

Last year, the Kimball Kiotes and White Lake Wolverines were opponents across the net, but because of declining enrollment in the schools, a co-op was necessary for the sport. White Lake Athletic Director Bob Schroeder said the transition has been smooth.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Sometimes scheduling practices and transportation has been challenging, but unifying the whole group has been easy.

“I sense the community is very excited. This is a first for White Lake, so things are out of the norm.”

Kimball/White Lake head coach Sarah Deffenbaugh said the team has conquered early-season obstacles to get to where it is now.

“We’ve had to adjust with new players, coaches and offensive and defensive systems, but the success is that the kids just became really committed,” she said. “They’ve bought into the fact that we can be successful together.

“They were excited about this happening.”

Kimball and White Lake also co-op in two other girls’ sports — basketball and track and field.

“Naturally, the transition to co-op in volleyball was next,” said Deffenbaugh, who’s coached Kimball volleyball for 12 years and is making her fifth appearance at state.

After a 3-4 start, Kimball/White Lake went 16-3 in its next 19 matches, which includes the remaining regular season and playoff tournaments. The WiLdKats, who were the top seed in District 11B, defeated Tripp-Delmont/ Armour and Platte-Geddes to claim the district title and swept Gregory in the Region 6B championship to earn a berth to the state tournament.

Senior outside hitter Jazmyn Hinker, of White Lake, said the improvement of the team from the start of the seasonto this point has revolved around team chemistry.

“We have good leadership from seniors all the way to the freshmen,” she said. “We’ve improved on the court by taking drills from practice and implementing those into the game. We also have strong relationships off the court and that’s helped us play together.”

Leading the team through the regular season were sophomore middle hitter Ivy Haines and junior outside hitter Haley Pazour. Haines posted a team-high 213 kills, while Pazour tallied 210. Hinker wasn’t far behind with 194 kills and freshman middle hitter Brooklyn Donald added 155 for the WiLdKat offense.

Defensively, Hinker led with 222 digs and was followed by senior defensive specialist Anna Pazour with 217 and junior defensive specialist Emily Sinclair with 185.

Senior setter Mary Kroupa recorded a team-leading 600 assists, Sinclair led in aces with 50 and Haines tallied a team-best 38 blocks.

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Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.
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