Youngsters like Natalie Rolbiecki are getting varsity experience at a young age. But the preparation they get by playing Junior Olympic volleyball in the summer gives them a jump up on competition that hasn’t prepared so vigorously.

Starting young

Natalie Rolbiecki used her 5-11 frame to leap, turn and attack the ball at the net. It landed with a thud on the other side.

To the normal eye, her moves would lead you to believe this is a veteran returning to the Minneota Vikings volleyball team. Well, the “veteran” part may not be true, then again, when you’ve spent your summer playing Junior Olympic Volleyball with girls one and two years older than you are — well, maybe you’ve learned a thing or two.

Rolbiecki is just an eighth grader, but she spent the summer swatting balls on the outside for her team that competed in the JO Nationals.

Now, Coach Hayley Fruin needs her in the middle to compliment junior Lydia Sussner. So Rolbiecki is making the switch.

“She’s been taking over in the middle and gaining confidence,” said Viking Coach Fruin. “She’s been improving from the first time to the last. The nice thing about Natalie is she’s not timid, not at all,” said her coach. If Rolbiecki has learned anything, says her coach, “It’s to be a lot more aggressive.”

She’s getting comfortable in her role and the coaching staff has found her to be a pleasant addition to the team. Another youngster joining the Vikings this year is ninth grader Ellie Pesch. She’ll get some time in the back row for the Vikings. The team is starting out with a new setter — Morgan Kockelman — but Coach Fruin doesn’t see that as a negative.

“She’s so aggressive, and she sees the court well,” said Coach Fruin about Kockelman. While it always takes a little time for teams to pull together under new leadership, most of the team has played with Kockelman before and know what to expect.

“The nice thing about Morgan is that she can block and attack at the net as well,” said Coach Fruin. An advantage the Vikings have is that, “Every single kid can play everywhere on the court.” The coach says playing summer ball helps a lot.

“In JO’s they get to play together,” she added. This team comes with what Coach Fruin calls, “Great expectations.”

Minneota has just one senior, Jennifer Krog, and her playing time the last two seasons has been limited because of injuries. But young or not, the Vikings feel they are putting a representative team on the court. “We’re very excited and looking forward to the season,” said Coach Fruin.

And they’ll get a chance to start the season at 5 p.m. Saturday at Hopkins Lindbergh School when they play Underwood in the Breakway Classic.

They will also play at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Ridgewater College in Willmar against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

Only time will tell if youth works in the favor of the Minneota Vikings.

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