Royalton pulled off a deep playoff run to the sub-section finals last fall, farther than it had ever gone in school history.
The Royals even nabbed a set from perennial power Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
With that success, though, has come a new level of expectation.
“Yes, and I couldn’t be more excited about that,” Royalton head coach Trisha Spencer said. “They showed up to practice day one ready to play. They know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but at least now they know they are capable of great things.”
One of the main reasons for that is senior setter Haley Olson.
After suffering a season-ending injury last winter in basketball, which also kept her out of spring softball, Olson returns for the Royals as a two-time all-area selection.
“I think the hitters may get recognized more because they often finish the play to earn a point, but I’ve always believed the setter is like the quarterback of a football team,” Spencer said. “They set the pace, have to remain calm and in control and not only do they have to read their own hitters, they have to read the opponents as well, making them one of the most aware players on the court.
“Haley possesses all these qualities and that is why we are so lucky to have her,” she said.
Despite her game already being at a high level in previous seasons, Spencer believes Olson can elevate her skills even higher this fall.
“Definitely,” she said. “She is coming off a knee injury and had to sit and watch her teammates compete in JOs (Junior Olympics) this winter. She used that as an opportunity to learn more about the game and improve her defensive positioning without actually playing the game. She takes advantage of every opportunity to improve herself.”
Olson will have several familiar faces to distribute the ball around to as well, including returning starters in seniors Abby Duevel and Jenna Skajewski, junior Hayley Gottwalt and sophomore Brandi Kloss.
Royalton will have to replace departed hitters Emily Fussy and Katelyn Kasella, but, “luckily we have depth in the program, and some determined young players who worked very hard this summer,” Spencer said.
Junior Olivia Gall and sophomore Lanae Sieben will look to help fill their void, with junior Kayla Eli returning as a key defensive player.
With so many returners, Spencer sees team chemistry as being a top strength.
“They’ve played together for many years now,” Spencer said. “They get along great, push each other and are more determined than ever to give it everything they’ve got.”
Royalton is scheduled to open the season at home against Braham, Tuesday.