Cassie Sieling went to bed two hours earlier than usual Sunday, eager to be ready for the 7 a.m. start of volleyball practice Monday at Bloomington Jefferson.
She and her twin sister, Ellie, senior captains and three-year varsity starters for the Jaguars, were at the gym a half-hour early, helping set up multiple courts.
The first day of practice was clearly a big deal.
The Jaguars weren't alone. Across the metro and the state, more than 400 girls' volleyball teams took to the courts Monday to begin the 2021 season. For most, the excitement was about more than just another new season. After a 2020 season that almost wasn't, Monday was celebrated as a return to community.
"Most players play club [volleyball] now, but high school is really when they come together to play with their classmates and their friends," Jefferson coach Crystal Dohlman said.
While not quite at a fever pitch, the excitement was palpable in the Jefferson Activities Center, where five volleyball courts were bustling with various drills and stations 3½ hours after practice began. Understandable, as this season has all the makings of a memorable one.
Two years ago, many of these same players got within a few fifth-and-final-set points of making the program's first state tournament appearance since 1999. No state tournament was held last year, so many Jaguars players see this as their opportunity to end a two-decades-long run without a trip to state.
"We talked about that in our meeting before practice," Dohlman said. "That's our main goal. Now, it's all about the steps we need to take to get there."
"I just love high school season, with all the energy and playing with all our friends," said Ellie Sieling, who, along with her sister, has committed to play at Concordia (St. Paul) after high school. "We want to go out with a bang and be the first team to make it to state since 1999."
Junior Olivia Opstad said the past two seasons are more than enough motivation for this year. "Winning state is the motivation, after the last two years," she said. "This is the year we can do it."