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Cougar volleyball preps for 2011

The University of Minnesota, Morris volleyball team is back to work in the gym, prepping for the 2011 campaign.

The team opened practice on Aug. 19, just two weeks out from opening the season on Sept. 2.

Just two days into preseason, the players can already see the team taking shape.

"Really good," senior setter Natalie Thomas said when asked how the first days have gone. "We came in the first day, it was a lot of learning technique, how coach wants us to pass, set, hit... things like that. And now that we're playing it's a lot more exciting, we're seeing where people are gonna fit in and how we're playing together and meshing."

Twenty-two players reported for camp, led by a trio of returning All-UMAC performers, including Thomas, middle blocker Stephanie Schmiesing and sophomore outside hitter Kaylie Clark. Junior middle Allie Humphrey has also been All-Conference in the past, and the returners blend with a talented group of eight freshman.

"I think our team is really deep this year," Schmiesing said. "We have a bunch of freshmen coming in - with our senior Natalie our setter - and we have a bunch of people that can contribute to the team and make it a great year."

Head Coach Chad Braegelmann enters his fourth year at the helm, after leading the team to 20 wins last season and earning Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors.

"I'm excited," Braegelmann said. "We have some nice athletes on our team this year. We came in, in very very good shape for preseason. We're deep, we've got a lot of kids at a lot of positions. In fact, I was touching base with my assistant coach, when it gets to the point to pick a starting line-up, there will be some tough decisions to make. We're excited about it."

The Cougars open the 2011 season playing four matches over two days in Stevens Point, Wis. on Sept. 2 and 3. They open against St. Catherine at 3 p.m.

They get their first home match on Sept. 9 when they host Mayville State and Mount Marty, starting at 4:30 p.m.