VIRGINIA — In her second year at the helm, Mesabi Range College head volleyball coach Sara Matuszak is keeping one of the program’s staples going: the high school summer volleyball league.
With teams from all over the Iron Range converging at Mesabi Range every Wednesday, high school volleyball players are getting some valuable minutes on the court as they work up to the fall season.
A few new teams have entered the fray this year bringing the total number of varsity teams to around a dozen, but Matuszak has gone even farther to grow the league.
“We’ve added two new teams this year in South Ridge and Ely,” Matuszak said. “Neither were here last year and we’ve also added a JV league this year and we have about five teams there. So hopefully we can grow that in the future and get more volleyball going around here in the summer. Overall, it’s been great so far with the number of girls we have coming through here every week.”
As summer is a packed season for high school athletes, the Mesabi Range league runs just one day a week, but the competitive nature of the league gives players a nice way to stay active in their offseason.
“Other sports all have their summer programs. Basketball has AAU, softball has their whole summer league going. But volleyball normally has their offseason in the spring so it’s nice to be able to play right up until the season starts and not sit around for three months without any volleyball.
“Even if it’s just an hour or two a week, it helps keep everyone fresh, JV and varsity both. Now when the season starts, they’ve been playing all summer and don’t have to start from square one.”
While the exact year the league started is a bit of a mystery, Matuszak said the Mesabi league has a few decades under it’s belt and has been run by the coaching staff since it’s inception.
“I think it’s probably been more than 20 years at this point that the league has been up and going. And I think it’s great. Thirty years ago when I was in high school sports, they didn’t have all this for girls. Mesabi maybe ran a girls’ basketball league and that was it for us. So it’s helpful for girls that want to be active in sports and want to take advantage of those opportunities to work on their game and stay in shape.”
Matuszak knows of only one other summer volleyball league in the area, making the Mesabi league a great destination for teams coming from all directions.
“I think it’s very valuable to have something like this at Mesabi. The nearest league that I know of is in Esko and I don’t know of any other leagues nearby. For girls in our area or even to the west of us, that’s a pretty long hike to go to Esko every week. Making it a short time frame once a week allows girls to fit it into their schedules and make it work.”
A benefit to the players, the league also provides Matuszak a nice look at local talent that she may be interested in recruiting to come play for the Lady Norse. Getting to know the players at a base level is key, according to the coach.
“It’s a great recruiting tool. You get to watch girls develop and get a good relationship with them throughout the entire area. It also let’s me know who I might want to focus on or pay attention to more when the fall season starts.
“It can be really hard to recruit when you don’t know who these girls are so you’re out there cold calling or cold texting. So this league helps me get to know them and establishes something early. Once you start doing it for a while, you get to know who’s interested and who’s not or who’s going other places.”
With growth on the horizon, Matuszak ultimately has to give credit to the players for coming out and working to get better.
“We’re just one or two hours every week but I have to give credit to all of these girls and especially their parents for helping get them here. They’re doing this league, summer jobs, other sports and so much more. Without the girls coming out, we wouldn’t have a league to run.”