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Volleyball: Cardinals set for new-look season

Alexandria senior McKenzie Duwenhoegger (middle) sends down a kill during Thursday afternoon's practice at AAHS. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)1 / 3
Alexandria head coach Mary Byrne (second from right) offers instructions during Thursday afternoon's practice at AAHS. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)2 / 3
The Alexandria volleyball team breaks it down during Thursday afternoon's practice at AAHS. (Micah Friez / Echo Press)3 / 3

The Cardinals feel good heading into camp with a new leader at the helm.

Mary Byrne is taking the reins of the Alexandria volleyball program this year, and it hasn’t taken long for her players to buy in to what she’s building.

“I think the girls really like Mary, really like working with her,” senior McKenzie Duwenhoegger said. “Practices have been super good. She knows what she’s talking about, so it’s really fun to listen to her. … It’s been really good at practice.”

AAHS is coming off a 16-13 season from a year ago, which included postseason wins over St. Cloud Tech and Bemidji before a loss to Willmar in Section 8AAA semifinals. The Cardinals will take a different route in search of success this season, though.

“Mary has a different kind of coaching style, which is good for us because we need that intensity to make us better,” said junior Ally Albers. “It’s been different, but it’s been good for us. We’re getting used to change and learning new things.”

Prior to Alexandria, Byrne, a native of Marshall, has spent 15 combined seasons as the head coach at Marshall High School, South Dakota State University and North Carolina State University. Now, she’s bringing all her experience to AAHS.

“It’s been really exciting. (I’m) just trying to really change the culture in the gym, and the players are really responding well,” she said. “Just creating a positive energy all around the volleyball program, from to bottom.”

The players have had to adjust to a new style, but Duwenhoegger said it’s been a worthy investment.

“It’s hard breaking habits that some of us have had for years and years,” she said. “It’s hard to work on those every day and not see them work every time or be as (easy) as they might have been before. But I think people are definitely buying in to it.”

And with the season less than a week away, the Cardinals are readying in a hurry.

“We have high goals,” said Albers. “We want to make it as far in the season as we possibly can. … We just have to bring everything together. We’re kind of learning things in separate ways, but once everything clicks, it’ll be good.”

Alexandria will host Bemidji at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at AAHS for its season opener. The mood around practice has been positive leading up to it.

“It’s just getting to business and trusting the process, knowing that we’re working really hard now and it’s going to pay off later,” Duwenhoegger said. “It’s business, is what it is.”

And while Byrne is sure to experience highs and lows while coaching the Cards, as with any season, she’s optimistic because of how things have begun.

“At first, the transition was a little difficult, as expected. But I feel a 100 percent buy-in of the athletes right now,” she said. “It’s been energizing to coach them and see how hard they’re working to make (something) happen.”

Micah Friez

Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Echo Press in Alexandria. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Alexandria area sports updates and jokes he thinks are funny.

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