Tension is high when Anya Schmidt steps behind the end line and prepares to serve.
A junior at Rogers, Schmidt has a reputation.
She's a terrifically athletic, 5-11 right-side hitter who spikes with authority, down the line, cross court or through the block. She is a force at the net.
But when she steps back to take her turn at serving, Schmidt becomes must-see volleyball.
When she tosses the ball in the air, she's readying more than a jump serve. She's igniting a driving, dipping rocket that, at its best, is next to impossible to return.
It comes at the opposition hard, usually at well over 50 mph, just clearing the net, with nasty topspin that causes it to dive. It comes from a high angle because Schmidt leaps so far off the ground before she strikes the ball.
Seeing it returned is infrequent, and a successful pass to a ready setter is almost unheard of. In one recent match, after Schmidt made three ace serves in a row, fans broke out in a cheer merely because the next ball stayed in play.
Schmidt said she doesn't pay much attention, but she knows her jump serve is disruptive.
"A lot of times, I just hear when they get a pass up," she said. "They get so excited, even if they don't get it back. It can take a team out of their game because they get so preoccupied with it."
Her coach and father, Bo Schmidt, has heard of opponents bringing in older, stronger players — even grown men — to prepare for Anya's serve.
"It's a funny thing," said Schmidt, himself a volleyball player. "I've got friends who have gotten calls from teams who are getting ready to play us, asking them to hit at them to get ready to face Anya. But I've seen what they hit and it's like, 'Well, no, that's not quite what they're going to get when they see Anya.' "
It's increasingly likely that, barring an injury (always a concern) or a sudden, inexplicable loss of talent (not a concern), Schmidt will conclude her high school career next fall as the state's all-time leader in service aces. She had 414 going into the season and has averaged almost 175 in each of the past two seasons. The documented state record for service aces, per the Minnesota State High School League, is 552.
There are no guarantees, of course, not with the high-risk, high-reward topspin jump serve.
Which is perfectly all right with Coach Schmidt. He and assistant TJ Canham, who taught the serve to Schmidt, encourage their players to take risks and play aggressively and fast.
"You look at her serve percentage, and it's about 83 to 85 percent," he said. "At a lot of programs, they'd say that's terrible. But we encourage our players to be aggressive, with serving, with hitting, with their defensive approach, everything. They have to have confidence to fail."
It's a significant piece of the approach that has helped the Royals to back-to-back state tournament appearances and a 12-1 record this season.
Other pieces aren't as obvious as a 50-mph serve.
Rogers' coaches encourage an esprit de corps among Rogers volleyball players of all levels, down to the youth teams. They practice together. They travel together. Varsity players support players all the way down the youth ladder.
And they stick together. On many top teams, players disperse around the metro to play for various volleyball clubs when the season is over. At Rogers, things stay in-house. Players compete for the local club, Club Velocity, which follows a less rigorous schedule.
It allows the players a more well-rounded existence that's not all volleyball all the time. Anya Schmidt's offseason allows for her commitment to track and field. She participated in four events in the Class 3A state meet this past spring, finishing second in the shot put and fifth in the discus.
"It's not like my life is entirely devoted to volleyball," said Schmidt, who last month made a verbal college commitment to play for St. Thomas "I get so much more out of life this way. It's unique and it's working."