Minneota sophomore Kelsey Hennen truly stands out in volleyball and not just because she wears a different color uniform than the rest of her teammates.
At the libero position, Hennen has excelled and is a vital part of the Vikings' solid 19-5 season.
Hennen has contributed 430 digs from the back row so far this year and leads not only the Minneota team, but the Marshall-area topping the list by more than 100 saves.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Minneota libero Kelsey Hennen puts a serve in play during a Camden Conference match with Canby last week. Hennen has played a key role int he Vikings’ early season success.
"Kelsey keeps a lot of balls alive for us," said Minneota head coach Stephanie Hennen. "She is a great hustler back there and will get to balls you don't think anyone will get to. She makes our offense run by popping the ball up for Taya (Kockelman)."
The libero, which is a ball-control specialist that is allowed to replace any back-row player, was introduced internationally in 1998 and was picked up by the NCAA in 2002. In Jan. of 2005, the high school volleyball rules committee adopted its use as well.
"It's definitely a great addition to the game," Stephanie Hennen said. "It's great to have Kelsey on the court most of the time. I think people give so much attention to the big blocks and kills, but you can't do any of it if you don't have a pass."
Kelsey Hennen's best performance came in the Vikings' last outing against Canby when she saved 40 balls for her team.
Back when Minnesota first added the libero, Kelsey Hennen was in grade school and was a setter during the Junior Olympic volleyball season.
"I switched to playing libero in seventh grade," said Kelsey Hennen. "I've enjoyed it a lot and I'm glad I switched."
Kelsey Hennen dressed varsity her seventh-grade year when the team went 30-0 and won the state championship. She then started on varsity in her eighth-grade year.
"We noticed when she was young that she was so quick," Stephanie Hennen said. "She reads the hitters really well, too. She was a little more timid back when she was in eighth-grade, but she's definitely more aggressive now."
The libero typically is also very consistent when it comes to serving.
"Kelsey doesn't miss many serves," said Stephanie Hennen. "She's worked hard on that this year and she's very consistent. She puts it in play."
Stephanie Hennen said that Kelsey Hennen does an excellent job of communicating on the court.
"Kelsey brings a lot of energy to the floor," she said. "She communicates well even though it's hard to be a leader when you're the youngest player on the court. She reads the hitters and also tells our hitter what's open. She makes all of them look better."
But Kelsey Hennen said her agenda is all about the team and is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.
"I'm learning to stay positive and try to keep the team up," she said. "You can see a lot better from way back there than any other spot, so I try to let the hitter know what's open. We have a good block this year and that always helps the back-row, with lining up and filling the holes."
According to Stephanie Hennen, the sophomore libero has really gotten comfortable with her position this year.
"Kelsey's more confident in her ability," said Stephanie Hennen. "She's gotten better every year. She knows what everyone expects from her and they depend on her. Kelsey plays great defense and has a fire out there. She has a strong desire to win."
While passing the ball is her specialty, Kelsey Hennen is quick to credit her entire team.
"We have good communication on our team," she said. "I feel a lot more confident with my passing. I try to help other people now instead of them helping me. We still have to work together and make adjustments. We know we have to pass well, especially on a free ball. We put those away pretty well."
As an eighth-grader in 2007, the Vikings went 22-5 and fell in the section finals 3-1 against eventual state runner-up Windom Area.
Then, in Kelsey Hennen's freshman season, Minneota went 23-5. But Windom Area got the best of the Vikings again in the section finals and the Eagles went on to win the state championship.
"We want to get to state this year," said Kelsey Hennen. "That's one of our team goals. We want to be playing our best and peak at the right time. We know what it feels like to win and what it feels like to lose. We want to play better than we did at the beginning of the year."
This season won't be the the last chance for Kelsey Hennen to make a state tournament appearance, but it is the last one that she could make it to state with her sister, senior middle hitter Sam Hennen.
"Next year, Sam won't be there," Kelsey Hennen said. "She's been on the team all the years that I've played. She started her freshman year. We've always went to games and practices together. Next year will be different."
But the Hennen sisters also have a younger sister that plays on B-Squad.
"My younger sister Molly is in eighth-grade and she's taller like Sam," said Kelsey Hennen. "She's a middle hitter, too."
Minneota will lose senior starters Leah Fadness and Sam Hennen after this season along with seniors Kaitlin Bottelberghe and Justene Davis. Kockelman, a three-year setter, is a junior along with starters Ashlynn Muhl and Jenna Hennen.
"We should have a good team next year," Kelsey Hennen said. "But we have a lot of good senior leadership and we'll miss them a lot."
But Kelsey Hennen said she is very much aware that this season has not come to a close yet and she'll do whatever it takes to continue toward their team goals.
"People are always telling me that I'm leading the area in digs," she said. "It's neat, but it's more about the team. We have a lot of people on the leaderboards. Our defense is strong compared to a lot of teams. But we just want to keep on winning."
The Vikings continue action on the road at Renville County West today and then host Pipestone on Friday.
"It's a big week for us," said Stephanie Hennen. "We have to get back on track. We want to be in the section finals again and be playing in November. We'd be okay with getting another shot at whoever ends up there with us. We have big goals."