The East Grand Forks Sacred Heart volleyball program won at least 22 matches in the four seasons between 2016-19.
The pandemic put an end to that streak, with Sacred Heart finishing 5-4 in its nine matches last year.
In order to get back to their winning ways in 2021, the Eagles are going to have to play beyond their inexperience.
Sacred Heart graduated six seniors from last season but Eagles coach Emily Vonasek, who's back for her 12th season at Sacred Heart after taking last season off, says she isn't seeing as much inexperience as one might think.
"I can't wait; they're going to have to be thrown right in there," Vonasek said. "The lack of experience ... I don't think it'll show that much. I think they're confident. We played at a scrimmage in Thompson and they looked good and confident. They're all coachable athletes. They listen and adapt and you can't ask for more from your athletes than that. They'll learn from their mistakes but like every coach hopes, they hopefully can peak at the end of the season."
Vonasek said the program has been built on emphasizing the details.
"We're consistent with the way we train," Vonasek said. "Little things like passing and moving your feet to the ball and not missing serves in key moments ... those fundamentals about the game you can't forget about. I'm a good nag in their ear about that and they probably get tired of it, but they know it and know what's expected."
Junior Avery Horken returns as the most experienced Sacred Heart player, while Grace Vonesh also saw consistent playing time a year ago.
The Eagles will have a new setter in senior Grace Miller and also add a couple of talented sophomores in hitter Audrey Zavarol and defensive specialist/outside hitter Rylee Chwialkowski.
"Passing is a strength and defensively we read fairly well and are quick," Vonasek said. "That gives us more opportunities to create that offense."
The pandemic-shortened season a year ago might've limited Sacred Heart's experience this year, but Vonasek points out everyone is in the same boat in that regard.
"This group did a lot over the summer," Vonasek said. "We did tournaments in June and had open gyms all summer long. We did a lot to make up for that time by doing the summer things together. Hopefully, that can help them jell as a team. They need to focus on working together and come back from that lack of experience they should've gained."
GGF volleyball at a glance
Coach: Kari Hearn.
2020 finish: 5-17.
Key returners: Sr. OH Lilly Hodgson; sr. S Madeline Stangl; sr. M Mackenzie Norlin.
Top newcomers: Jr. MH Jasmine Thomas, soph. S-RS Emma Haskamp; fr. RS Lauren Reardon; sr. OH Avery Peterson, jr. libero Katelyn Gass.
Coach Hearn says: "We have an inexperienced team with three returners. We have a handful of seniors but a bit inexperienced. We definitely have a lot of work to do, but we have potential and some height to work with. We need to work on some of the things that come without having varsity experience."
GF Red River
Coach: Heather Chatham.
2020 finish: 14-10.
Key returners: Sr. MH Ava Swangstue, soph. OH Hannah Litzinger.
Top newcomers: Soph. OH Haley Johnson, jr. OH Kelsey Towers, jr. OH Farrah Spicer, sr. MH Cynara Rydell, sr. S/DS Emily Robson, sr. S Emma Storstad, soph. libero Hope Gaddie, sr. DS Lily Costello.
Coach Chatham says: "I like the dynamics of this group. This is the first time a lot of them have played together on a team. It's really nice to see them come together and the chemistry is going well. We're finding value in the work that we're doing. We are just starting to see where our confidence can take us. We've thrown in different offensive plays and have been able to test those in Bismarck last weekend. It's exciting to see them trust each other to run those plays and eliminate silly mistakes so we can afford the mistakes that come with being aggressive."
EGF Senior High
Coach: Paula Devine.
2020 finish: 6-5.
Key returners: Sr. OH Kendra Emery, sr. L Brianna Anderson, sr. DS Julia Nelson.
Top newcomers: Jr. OH Ava Pena, fr. MH, RS Addy Kujawa, jr. MH Hayli Robertson.
Coach Devine says: "We had 10 seniors graduate. It's a different year because it's a brand-new team. We have very little varsity experience so leadership from Kendra has been exceptional through the preseason. They're all enthusiastic and working hard to get some playing time. It's a good group and getting along well."
EGF Sacred Heart
Coach: Emily Vonasek.
2020 finish: 5-4.
Key returners: Sr. MH Sophie Evavold, sr. MH Grace Vonesh, sr. L Grace Loeslie, jr. OH Avery Horken.
Top newcomers: Sr. S Grace Miller, jr. DS Haley Vonasek, jr. S-RS Ella Adolphson, jr. OH Audrey Zavarol, soph. DS-OH Rylee Chwialkowski, soph. OH Emma Anvinson.
Coach Vonasek says: “I think they show tremendous potential. Our passing has surprised me in the scrimmage. I think they’re a group that works hard and plays well together. I’m looking for good things. I’d really like to create more aggressive offense but I think overall we’re going to compete this year, so I’m excited to see what the season brings.”