Denfeld News

October 24, 2012
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth Denfeld is back in volleyball for many reasons
By Rick Lubbers

The checklist for building a successful high school varsity volleyball team isn’t a long one.

Just combine a strong feeder program with good coaching and players who spend every waking moment thinking about volleyball.

If you have those three elements, wins shouldn’t be too far away.

Kim Swanstrom began her second stint as Duluth Denfeld’s coach three seasons ago with two main goals: seamlessly merging the Duluth Central and Denfeld teams and building the Hunters into a winning program.

With the Central-Denfeld unification in the rearview mirror, Swanstrom’s squad put together a record north of the .500 line this past season for the first time in recent memory.

“We have been under .500 for quite a while,” Swanstrom said. “The volleyball level has been raised here at Denfeld over the past couple of years.”

That’s thanks in part to the formation of a Junior Olympic program in West Duluth that helps the Hunters hone their skills. A fledgling middle school volleyball program also will help produce future quality players.

But one of the biggest reasons for the Hunters’ winning season —15-9 entering tonight’s Section 7AAA pairing at Forest Lake (13-13) —is the inspired play of senior Rebekah Overby, 17.

“She is by far the best passer that I’ve seen in the area. Just that alone keeps our offense going. Her presence on the court keeps everybody calm,” said Swanstrom, who has coached prep volleyball for 25 years, including at Duluth East and two stints at Denfeld. “She’s a great hitter, she’s a great digger. She makes the plays that we need when we’re down. She gets them fired up and makes the play that needs to change the momentum.”

Not only does she change the momentum, but she pumps up the volume.

“I’m very loud,” Overby admitted. “I’m completely different on the court because I’m really quiet off the court. But as soon as I get on the court I’m just so comfortable. I’m everywhere and I’m screaming. I have a lot of energy.”

Under Overby’s leadership, the Hunters have blossomed into a winning squad.

“This year our team just feels like a team and in the past it hasn’t,” she said. “Winning is good, but being more of a team I think is more important. It’s been a rough past couple of years transitioning together.

“We all played (Junior Olympic volleyball) together and we did stuff over the summer, so we’re finally comfortable. It’s just a lot more fun.”

“She’s a good role model,” Swanstrom said. “She’s always there to encourage the younger players. She’s never negative, always positive. Just a good leader outside and on the court. They know she’s going to make that play, they know she’s going to make that pass, they know she’s going to get that serve.”

And Overby’s style is almost a throwback to an age before specialization took over volleyball.

“She’s an all-around good volleyball player: She blocks, she hits, she digs, she’s a great server,” Swanstrom said.

“I’m more comfortable and more confident in the back row, but there’s nothing better than going up and getting that perfect kill,” Overby said. “I like them both a lot, and I feel really lucky that I can do both.”

Overby’s prowess shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the Hunters or knows their history. Volleyball is literally in her blood. Swanstrom, who happens to be her aunt, played volleyball at Denfeld and at Minnesota Duluth. Another aunt, Sharon Bourdeau, also was a Hunter and left Wisconsin-Superior as the Yellowjackets’ all-time leading setter.

“There is definitely volleyball in her genes,” Swanstrom said. “Volleyball definitely has been a big part of our lives. I think it shows in Rebekah.”

Swanstrom recalled Overby tagging along as a youngster when she was coaching at East. Not that many years later, Overby was called up to the varsity squad as a freshman. She’s been a starter ever since her sophomore season. The reigning team MVP and first-team Lake Superior Conference honoree turned in another strong regular season, leading the Hunters in kills (135) and digs (190), second in service aces (40) and third in ace blocks (17).

“A lot of that I attribute to her hard work,” Swanstrom said. “She has taken her role seriously. She wanted to be the best volleyball player she can be.”

To say Overby’s lifestyle is volleyball-centric would be an understatement.

Hobbies?

She says she really doesn’t have any that don’t revolve around volleyball.

Other sports?

No. She gave up softball and soccer a while back to focus on volleyball.

“I had to decide which one I loved more, and it was volleyball, so I just focused all my time and attention on that,” Overby said.

The poster child for Duluth Denfeld volleyball isn’t too worried about college at the moment —after all, there’s high school volleyball to dwell on — but she would love to continue playing at the collegiate level.

That’s something to worry about after the high school season is over. But once the offseason does start, Swanstrom immediately will begin searching for Denfeld’s next Rebekah Overby.

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