The HTRS volleyball team includes: First row, left to right—Carissa Allen, Kylie Kalin, Lauren Nanninga; Second row—Ellie Schaardt, Natalie Novak, Katilyn Glathar, Abby Stalder, Jacey Leech; Third row—Ashton Bredemeier, Alyssa Howe, Jaylyn Bohling.

The match was circled on the calendar, so, yes, this was a big deal.

For Humboldt-Table Rock-Steinauer, Thursday's volleyball tilt against then-No. 6 Meridian was a good barometer match — a chance for the Titans to see where they stand and how far they need to go.

HTRS, taking sets four and five, rallied for a confidence-boosting five-set win.

"The Meridian win was huge for us," HTRS coach Kara Engles said. "They got a great volleyball tradition, they're always well-coached, they play really scrappy and they play really hard.

"The girls were really excited after that win."

The Titans have enjoyed a fast start. They're 7-1 and they're ranked No. 7 in the latest Class D-1 ratings.

Engles admits she didn't know if a fast start was in the cards for her team. Though the Titans brought back multiple starters from last year's 14-13 squad, a couple key injuries prevented a full roster from playing at summer camps.

Senior outside hitter Carissa Allen and senior libero Kylie Kalin each had hip surgery in the spring and were not cleared to return until the first day of practice on Aug. 12.

"It has taken a while for us to get everyone back into playing shape and to get everyone kind of working together again and getting used to each other," Engles said. "The preseason we had to work really hard and were a little nervous how we would respond early."

The Titans have responded in a big way.

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Engles credits the senior leadership in holding it together while Allen and Kalin recovered. Senior middle Lauren Nanninga was among the players encouraging teammates to hit the weight room and making sure they were attending camps and clinics.

Juniors Katilyn Glathar and Natalie Novak and sophomore Ellie Schaardt also are back after starting matches last year.

"All of our hard work in the weight room this summer and just working hard in volleyball, I knew we had the potential to beat good teams and be good, so we have to keep that up and keep working hard in everything we do," Nanninga said.

The key now is maintaining momentum. A lot of volleyball remains, but the Titans see an opportunity to get better. Their goal, Engles says, is to focus on the journey.

"We want to keep improving each and every game, win or lose," she said. "What have we done better? What do we need to keep doing better?; so we're ready to compete at the end of the season."

Nanninga doesn't back away from talking about the ultimate goal.

"When we first started we said that our goal was to go to state and if you don't want that then you need to start thinking that because everyone there needs to think that we are going to state," she said.

The path will be challenging. The Titans will see Lourdes Central Catholic (6-0) on Tuesday and the Knights won the first meeting over the weekend in the Weeping Water tournament. The MUDECAS Tournament is not far away and HTRS also will see several teams from C-1 and C-2.

But eight matches in, the Titans are feeling some good vibes.

"I love practice every day," Nanninga said. "I love the look on everyone's faces because I can tell everyone is pumped up and ready for this season."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.


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