South Tahoe Viking volleyers storming into postseason |

South Tahoe Viking volleyers storming into postseason

South Tahoe senior Layne Hembree puts up a block earlier this season.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Before the South Tahoe Vikings run onto the volleyball court, the girls gather alone for a few minutes to clear their heads.

They mentally empty the stress and whatever happened earlier in the day and narrow their focus on destroying opponents.

And it’s working.

The Vikings have won 11 straight matches and, of this writing, were on the verge of clinching the No. 2 seed in the 3A Nevada interscholastic Activities Association Northern Region playoffs.

“We’ve been working on our mindset,” said senior Hailey Naccarato. “We would get into our own heads when we messed up, especially me. But lately, we’re being more positive and working together better as a team. We just take it one point and one set at a time and play for each other. We’re not undermining ourselves.”

“The girls have picked it up especially the second half of league, we got our mindset right,” said Vikings head coach Kelly Racca. “We’re focused and very goal oriented. They are charting the path and are walking the walk. They’ve all bought into the system and are working hard as a unit.”

The Vikings were already enjoying a playoff caliber season through the first month of the season and then received an early Christmas present at the end of September.

Like the Houston Astros last year acquiring the mighty ace pitcher Justin Verlander to bolster its roster for a playoff run that ultimately ended with a World Series championship, the Vikings added their own top talent and hope their postseason also ends with a northern region and state titles.

South Tahoe senior Sofia Hedqvist was expected to miss the volleyball season because she was attending school and playing overseas with the Swedish national team.

But things in Sweden weren’t perfect and she missed her mates on the South Shore. She returned just in time for the Vikings playoff push.

“I was playing over there and it was great, I had a fun time with the girls, but a big part of me wanted to come home and finish off my senior year here,” Hedqvist said. “It was really hard leaving here, and I had a great time over there, but just things were different, school was not working out real well, it was all in a different language. But I came back and they were all so super sweet, they welcomed me back with open arms. I’m so happy I came back and I get to finish my senior year here.”

“She brings me happiness because she’s probably the number one supporter in my life, and my best friend,” said senior Layne Hembree. “That was a big surprise when she said she was coming back, probably one of the best moments of my life.”

Hedqvist could be the game changer that helps the Vikings beat rival and unbeaten 3A Northern League champion Truckee.

The teams will meet today, Oct. 26, in the regular season finale and will be on the opposite sides of the northern region bracket when it is released by the NIAA. If they do meet in the regional playoffs, it will be for the crown.

“She brings a whole different vibe to the team,” Hembree said. “When we fight she’s the one that says ‘Don’t, we’re a family.’ She kind of pulls it all together and brings a whole ‘nother level of positivity. We had confidence, but it felt like we were missing a family member, so we couldn’t have the full successful season without her. We are out to win and that’s hard to be completely positive when we don’t have our full family there.”

The Vikings started their win streak without Hedqvist. They had won four straight before she joined the fold. Since the outside hitter returned, the Vikings have lost just two sets in seven matches and have swept six opponents.

“With Sofia here we play so much better,” Naccarato said. “She adds more power and it makes our front line against the net a lot stronger. She’s a great team captain, she’s a great person in general, and it makes our team atmosphere a lot better with energy and positivity.”

Hedqvist made quite a stir with opposing league coaches when she returned.

“The Fernley coach shows up here and saw she was on our bench and said, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Racca said. “The Lowry coach even said “Hey, I see this name on your roster on maxpreps, this isn’t fair, she needs to go back to Sweden. All the coaches know about her talent.”

The Vikings (16-6, 14-2 Northern League) hosted Dayton (9-7 Northern) Thursday, after press deadline, in their final home game, senior night. They face Truckee (17-0 Northern) today at 6 p.m. to finish the regular season.

The regional tournament begins Friday, Nov. 2, in Elko, Nevada, and ends Saturday with the semifinals and final. The Vikings wanted all along this season to earn the No. 1 or 2 seed, so if they win one game at regionals, they qualify for state. If the Vikings clinch that No. 2 seed, they don’t have to travel to Elko until Saturday.

The top two teams from the regional advance to the state tournament that will be played Nov. 9-10, at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno.

“Friday we play Truckee, and we wanna beat them in three because it’s their senior night and we wanna kick their butts,” Hedqvist said. “And then playoffs, we wanna play well and the goal is state — this is the team for that for sure.”

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