By PATRICK SLACK
Bridget Bednar showed up for Wednesday night youth volleyball clinics in third grade and liked the sport so much … that she stopped playing.
Luckily for Pierz, she started back up in sixth grade, and after watching the high school team play for a few years, her spark for the sport was ignited.
“I didn’t really like it (early on),” Bednar said. “As I went through junior high, I went to many sporting events and would always dream of someday playing like the older girls. That’s what jump-started my passion.”
That passion was evident on a nightly basis throughout her four-year varsity career, springing from side to side, blocking shots and slugging kills. This year, the imposing middle hitter’s career culminated with a staggering 404 kills along with 208 digs, 78 blocks and 58 service aces, completing the transition from a very good player to a great one.
“I feel that I have progressed a lot through the years as a varsity player,” Bednar said. “I have become a stronger and smarter player by working hard in and out of season to sharpen my skills. Even though I have improved immensely, I do know that I still have a lot of skills to work and sharpen up on.”
“When Bridget was a freshman she focused on stopping opponents,” Pierz head coach Sandy Tautges said, leading the team with 124 blocks. “As she has grown with her game, her focus became being the player others want to stop. She has developed a great offensive threat.”
“Bridget’s offense was very key to our success, but her defense is something that ignites her play and others,” she said. “Being able to stop other top players did halt offensive runs for other teams, making closing a match easier and a struggle for other teams to come back from.”
Strong start, dramatic finish
Bednar’s play was pivotal in Pierz sprinting out of the gates to win nine of its first 10 matches.
The Pioneers eventually worked their way up to 19 wins, the last of which came in the opening round of the playoffs against rival Little Falls, a rematch of a five-setter from just 11 days earlier.
“During the school day everyone was so anxious, we knew we could beat them if we worked hard and played well,” Bednar said. “In the locker room before the match the nerves were high. Girls kept asking questions – I knew I needed to change their focus. We started messing around and getting pumped up. (After our pre-game ritual) the girls seemed more relaxed and focused.”
Bednar put up 18 kills and 14 digs in the four-set victory, then nearly powered Pierz to a stunning upset over top-seed perennial Section 6AA power Sauk Centre.
Despite receiving the bulk of the defense’s attention, as she did throughout the fall, Bednar planted 23 of the team’s 33 kills as the Pioneers took the first set before falling just short to conclude their season.
“We knew teams would key in on Bridget all year,” Tautges said. “She has responded well all season and didn’t let the hype of a section game affect her play. Bridget has been solid from day one. She will definitely be a player we will miss next year.”
“Early on in our season we looked at playing Bridget as an outside, but with her in the middle of the court she had the opportunity to stop all three front row players,” she said. “Bridget’s speed at the net helped her to be a prominent blocker. We didn’t have anyone else that could fill that role so we elected to leave her in the middle. Bridget’s offense would happen whether on the outside or in the middle, but her defense could be more of a threat in the middle.”
Set up for success
Passing the ball off to Bednar for most of the past three years has been all-area junior setter Jessica Hawks, who finished with 348 set assists.
Together, the duo has developed into a fine-tuned combination, keenly aware of where the other is at all times.
“Over the years, Jess and I have grown into great friends on and off the court. In games we always knew where the other was on the court and could count on each other when a play went out of sync,” Bednar said. “We have played many games together and just knowing that Jess is a smart setter and she will have the set there was very helpful for me getting my timing down.”
“Bridget’s versatility makes her a dominating hitter. She is able to hit so many different sets which makes it hard to defend her,” Tautges said. “Each set has a little different approach, which she has worked hard to develop. Bridget has worked hard at hitter away from blocker/defenders, frustrating opponents.”
While Pierz will be left trying to fill Bednar’s giant shoes next fall, the third-grader who briefly gave up on the sport now plans on playing it at the next level.
“I am hoping to find a college that will want me to play for them and that will still have a campus that I will be comfortable living on,” Bednar said. “I am still undecided, but I know that I do want to continue playing.”