BISMARCK – On a volleyball team with veteran hitters and a veteran setter, there is a relative newcomer.
Senior Callie Wagoner fulfills a role for Bismarck-Henning's unbeaten Blue Devils which is as important as those of her experienced teammates.
She is the full-time libero, the defensive specialist whose job it is to prevent kills and make well-placed passes to setter Hannah Ohl. She is comfortable in the position and not showing the effects of missing her entire junior season while recovering from surgery on her left knee.
"There was no doubt I wanted to play," said Wagoner, who had five digs Tuesday as B-H handed Schlarman its first loss 25-16, 25-11, "but I was scared the knee wouldn't hold up."
Wagoner was cleared in time to resume activity during the summer and that turned into an important time for her development.
To regain her confidence, she said, "took all summer. The coaches and my teammates pushed me. It was a good support system."
Coach Susan Kentner said her qualms were alleviated when she saw the aggressiveness and passion that Wagoner displayed.
"The first day at camp, she was all over the floor," Kentner said. "She was willing to sacrifice her body (to make a play). When I saw that, my worries ended."
Kentner said there's few obvious signs that Wagoner endured a seven-month layoff.
"She picked it right back up," she said. "She'll do anything we ask and takes coaching cues very well. Her mobility is still not 100 percent, but she covers well."
At 5-foot-4, Wagoner recognizes her limitations.
"I've never been a hitter," she said, "so defense is what I practice on."
Schlarman never led in the first game of the Vermilion Valley Conference showdown. In Game 2, the Hilltoppers built a 6-3 lead, but B-H regrouped and scored 20 of the last 23 points, taking the lead for good, 10-9, on a kill by Cassie McCorkle.
"This should be their year," Schlarman coach Jamison Kuemmerle said. "Every girl they have is a strong hitter and a strong passer."
The Hilltoppers were unable to sustain the level they reached last week in winning their own tournament. Against B-H, Schlarman had no blocks and no service aces.
B-H, meanwhile, landed nine aces, including three in a row in Game 2 by Ohl.
"Our serve-receive was brutal," Kuemmerle said. "We weren't able to get a pass that was settable."
Thanks to Wagoner and her cohorts, Ohl didn't have to scramble around the court to find the ball. Ohl handed out a match-high 16 assists.
B-H's balanced offense featured four players with at least two kills. Anna Rush was the leader with five.
"The great thing about this team is that we can go to all of these different kids," Kentner said.
B-H is off to a 2-0 start after beating the Hilltoppers in the match which featured the schools picked by conference coaches in the preseason as the top two in the Vermilion Valley. Kentner doesn't want her team to rest on its laurels.
"We are where I feel we should be (after two 2-0 sweeps)," she said, "but we have to understand where we need to keep the level of play."
Emily Schiro had nine assists, Lindsey Hughes had seven digs and Brittani Brandon five kills to lead the Hilltoppers.