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University of Mary setter Sydney Murphy (3) celebrates a point last season with teammates. The Marauders open the season with four matches in Houghton, Mich., starting against Northern Michigan today at 5 p.m.

Summer workouts have become a staple of all successful college teams.

Add the University of Mary volleyball squad to the list of getting busy when it’s sunny.

The Marauders, who kick off their season today in Houghton, Mich., had strong participation during offseason workouts with leadership from the team’s upperclassmen.

“It makes such a big difference to have players here developing solidarity and team chemistry and I thought our players had a really good summer doing that,” U-Mary head coach Korie Tetzlaff said. “We’re able to get through stuff much more quickly and not have to worry as much about things like conditioning with the girls already in good shape physically.

“It’s something that’s important and we feel like we were able to hit the ground running.”

The Marauders return almost the entire roster from last season, which was a struggle in the unforgiving Northern Sun. Year 2 under Tetzlaff sets up nicely, however, with more familiarity from top to bottom.

“We’ve been very process-minded. Our big focus this past spring and going into the summer was doing the little things better, and if we do that, the results will take care of themselves,” Tetzlaff said. “We have high expectations, but there are things that we need to do collectively to get there. We have to cut down on our errors as much as possible and we want to be earning our points.”

The Marauders bring back 15 players, scattered across the entire lineup, with extensive experience. Yet, the roster only has four seniors. A large junior class (10) will be counted on.

Making win-loss progress in the NSIC, the toughest D-II league in the country, will not be easy. Perennial powers Concordia-St. Paul (No. 5), Minnesota-Duluth (No. 6), Northern State (No. 8) and Southwest Minnesota State (No. 9) are all ranked in the top 10 in the preseason national rankings. With Wayne State (Neb.) and Sioux Falls getting votes in the poll, six of the 16 teams in the conference are ranked, or close.

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“We want to be competitive in our league … competing to be in the top half,” Tetzlaff said. “We’re doing things every day to improve, to become better individually and as a team.”

Four Marauders – Morgan Schnabel (178), Katja Berge (166), Natalia Cruz (129) and Anna Nietfeld (106) – all had more than 100 kills last season and all four return.

Sydney Murphy, last season’s leader in assists (567) and aces (29) also is back.

Defensively, Cruz (278) and Breanna Donarski (248) combined for more than 550 digs in 2018. Both return. At the net, four Marauders had 30 blocks or more last fall – Madison Bergthold’s 51 were the most – all are back.

“A large percentage of our roster has gotten a lot of experience the past two years,” Tetzlaff said. “You can see the improvement. We just need to continue that positive momentum.”

The 19-player roster features five players from North Dakota, four of which are really local. Mandan’s Hannah Hanson and Jessie Oja of Bismarck High join Murphy (Legacy) and Schnabel (Lehr/Wishek High School) with deep local ties. Hanson and Oja transferred to U-Mary after two successful seasons at Bismarck State College.

Tetzlaff plans to mix and match this weekend in Michigan with one match Thursday, two Friday and one Saturday.

“That’s the goal of this tournament, to see where we’re at,” she said. “We’ll be able to see what our lineup looks like, try some different combinations and get a good idea of what’s clicking.

“Our players have worked hard. We’re excited to get the season started.”

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Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com