Rebuilding a winning legacy
November 16, 2012
Three years ago, South Tahoe volleyball wasn’t even on the map.
The Vikings hadn’t won the state championships or made playoffs since 1990. The golden years were a thing of the past, and wins were few and far between as the team sputtered through two decades.
Three sophomores and one coach were about to change all of that.
Drew Norberg, Morgan Kaufer and Bailey David joined the varsity team as sophomores three years ago. It was the same year former Whittell High School volleyball coach Dan McLaughlin took over the program.
The year was 2010, and the four started rebuilding the legacy.
“We made it to a playoff game that year and that was huge for South Tahoe volleyball,” Norberg said. “We didn’t win that playoff game, and I remember after that I was like, ‘OK, I only have two more years and this is going to happen.'”
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On Saturday it finally did.
The Vikings won the state championships and it flew in the face of the masses who had written them off after 22 years of obscurity.
“The best thing that was said to me was by the ump official,” McLaughlin said. “A young lady I didn’t even know. She caught me on the way back and said, ‘I don’t know how you did this, but South Tahoe was irrelevant in the volleyball world before last year.'”
South Tahoe volleyball yes. McLaughlin no.
The head coach now has seven volleyball state championships. He is a relentless coach who values strong serves, clean blocks and backcourt fundamentals.
He also knows what a state championship team looks like. Norberg, Kaufer and David were the perfect combination.
The three girls, and the rest of the Vikings’ volleyball team, flew in the face of virtually every person in that state championship gym last weekend watching the competition warm up.
“It was pretty frustrating, but then again we also just used it as motivation,” Norberg said. “That’s sort of our secret weapon. When we go out on that court, we don’t care how tall we are, how athletic we look, we’re going to play with our hearts because that’s what works.”
A good middle is the hardest piece of the puzzle to find, but perhaps the most crucial to making the whole system work.
When McLaughlin saw Norberg running track in middle school, he knew she could be a dominant middle. She physically fit the role – fast and tall.
“Her speed is what sets her aside from most of the middles you watch in high school,” Norberg said. “They may be tall, but very few can run like she can.”
Norberg closes blocks and still gets off the net to cover defense so quickly it’s hard to figure out how it happened.
“You find a middle with Drew’s talent and they’re premium,”McLaughlin said. “You find them and you go, ‘oh, you’re going places’.”
That being said, it’s hard to imagine a volleyball player like Norberg ever being written off.
The 6-foot-1 senior jumps likes she still has inches to make up for. Norberg has mad hops, a lightening swing, and a runner’s speed that equals one deadly combination on the volleyball court.
“Drew is one of the most dominate players this area has ever seen. I mean we’ve turned out some talented players,” McLaughlin said, “one of them was PAC 10 in fact, but none of them were as dominate in high school as Drew was.”
Norberg’s hit can be heard from the high school parking lot.
In fact, Norberg hits are resounding enough to have attracted attention from college coaches last year. It was almost enough to convince Norberg to graduate early.
Almost, but she still had a state title to win with the Vikings.
“I decided to stay because I love this team so much. I couldn’t imagine playing without them and having the chance to and not taking it,” Norberg said.
The second piece to the Vikings’ championship trifecta was their senior outside hitter.
Kaufer sometimes slips under the radar, but there isn’t an aspect of the game she doesn’t dominate. She destroys balls at the net and behind the service line. She also has one of the most disciplined digs on the team.
When the ball does find its way to Kaufer, her teammates noticeably relax because she always serves up consistency.
“I think she doesn’t give herself enough credit for how good she is. She’s worked really hard and it’s finally paid off,” Norberg said.
What really sets Kaufer apart is her court intelligence. She has a knack for knowing exactly when to tip or kill.
“You can’t replace her feel for the game. The intangible,” McLaughlin said. “She’s played so much volleyball that she really rises to the occasion because of her experience.”
There is no one on the volleyball court with more heart than defense specialist David.
At 5-foot-5, David doesn’t necessarily scream state champion volleyball player but she packs a big punch.
“She’s just this little ball of energy all the time,” Norberg said. “No matter what was happening earlier that day, she always comes to practice ready to go, ready to pump everyone up.”
The same can be said of David during games. David’s energy was a big part of what saved South Tahoe from elimination in Game 4 of the semifinals.
“Without her we wouldn’t have won state for sure,” Norberg said. “She always had the mentality to keep everyone going.”
David also had the sacrifice to throw herself across the gym floor without hesitation to save countless kills this season. Her scrappy digs played an equal role in keeping the Vikings alive in playoffs when the numbers were stacked against them.
“I was thinking about this, if you’re picking an MVP how can you?” McLauglin said. “You can’t seperate the three of them. Morgan’s the brains, Bailey’s the heart and soul and guts, and Drew is the star, the product.”
The three started this journey together three years ago, so it’s fitting they crossed the finish line each carrying their part of the load.
“We had that goal set in mind, but the best part about it was just playing volleyball,” Norberg said, “and I know that’s not over.”