Faith is in the Cards

| September 10, 2015 | 0 Comments
From left, Cardinals Payton Nutter, Nora Schulz, Keely Skluzacek, Hannah Robb, Shelby Meyer, Mary Campbell and Madi Strodtman bring state tournament experience to the Bethlehem Academy varsity volleyball roster this year. All played key roles on last year’s state Class A championship team. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, Cardinals Payton Nutter, Nora Schulz, Keely Skluzacek, Hannah Robb, Shelby Meyer, Mary Campbell and Madi Strodtman bring state tournament experience to the Bethlehem Academy varsity volleyball roster this year. All played key roles on last year’s state Class A championship team. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Bethlehem Academy volleyball players surrounded their coaches, Franz Boelter and assistant Sue Jandro, at a late August practice in the gym of the Faribault school.

It was minutes after 3 p.m., and it was time to get down to the business of honing skills the Cardinals hope will help them defend the State Class A title the team won last November.

But, before serving, spiking and digging their way through the coaches’ rigorous routine, there was an important task to do.

“Let’s pray,” Boelter said.

In unison, the 15 players dropped to their knees like they were getting ready to dig an opponent’s spike.

The posture highlighted Boelter’s ultimate hope for his team: to be Christians first, players second.

Their prayer routine, including hymns sung in the huddle before every match, is part of a long-standing tradition at the school.

“I think it’s really special that we get that time together,” said senior Hannah Robb, one of seven returning players who saw action in the state tournament last year. “That gives us such a deeper connection with each other when we know that we have that support of our teammates in our faith life.”

Boelter, who is entering his 24th year as head coach, said the girls borrowed a hymnal from Divine Mercy parish in Faribault and picked hymns to sing throughout the season. The players gather on the court right before a match, lock arms together and sway as they sing some of their favorites.

Once they even included players from the opposing team. It happened after the state tournament in 2012, when the Cardinals faced Southwest Christian in the Class A finals and won the match. The two head coaches agreed that they would have their players gather together right after the match.

“So, there was a big circle with players and coaches intermixed,” Boelter said. “It probably is one of the most meaningful things that I’ve ever experienced as a coach. And, I think our players would say the same. It was one of the absolute highlights of the season, being able to do that after the state championship match.”

Last year, the team struggled when Payton Schultz, then a senior, went down with a fractured elbow during a tournament.

Yet, the team pulled together and made it to state, with Schultz returning just in time to help the Cardinals win the title, her fourth in six years as a starter and the school’s seventh overall. She made varsity as a seventh-grader and became a starter.

Just two years after Schultz arrived, another Payton entered  the court — Payton Nutter, now a junior and one of the team’s four captains. Like the older Payton, she impressed the coaches enough to earn a varsity spot in seventh grade.

“We get her for two more years, so she’ll make me a better coach for the next two years,” said Boelter, who was named state Class A Coach of the Year last year. (Jandro won Assistant Coach of the Year.) “She’s extremely humble. I don’t think I’ve ever had a player more humble than she is. She will always give credit to somebody else. If you compliment her, there’s always a thank-you. She is as humble as they come.”

Coming up for the Cardinals is the Eagle Invitational at Apple Valley High School Sept. 25-26 featuring some of the top teams in the state. The state tournament is Nov. 12-14.

Win or lose, one thing is certain: The Cardinals’ hymnal will get plenty of use this season. “It’s like a deeper connection between all of us when we get to pray and sing together,” Nutter said.

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