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Central Lakes thrilled to be back at nationals

Jane Peterson went three years without taking Central Lakes to the NJCAA National Volleyball Tournament.

The 23-year coach, who has her Raiders back in the event this weekend, didn't appreciate the lull. She knows just how much can be enjoyed from nationals, having earned berths there nine of the last 12 years.

Peterson will tell you that winning is wonderful. Her Raiders have finished as national champions three times.

But it's much more than the potential for another title that has Peterson anticipating this Friday and Saturday's national event at Rochester Community and Technical College.

It's the entire experience of nationals that grabs her. And even more, it's what grabs her players.

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"These are 18- and 19-year-old girls from small towns," Peterson said. "Some of them haven't been a lot of places. Every time we've gone, they're meeting other players from places like New York, because they're staying in the same hotel as them. That's a big deal.

"In 2009 when we went, our girls were in their pajamas at night, hearing these other girls with a New York accent, who they became instant Facebook friends with. It opened their eyes that there is a big world out there."

If they can mix those mixers with three more wins on Friday and Saturday, that will be the ultimate for Peterson and her Raiders. Central Lakes (25-2 and ranked second in the nation) seems to have as good a shot as anyone at the national title. Madison (31-3) enters ranked No. 1. But Peterson doesn't imagine there's too much that separates those two teams.

Just as she figures fellow Minnesota team Ridgewater (21-3, and ranked third) has an excellent chance at a championship. That's despite having lost to Central Lakes in the teams' two meetings this year. It was Ridgewater that downed RCTC 3-2 in the Region 13A championship game.

"Madison and us have been ranked No. 1 and 2 almost all year, and neither one of us has lost in a long time" said Nelson, whose team, like Madison, has won its last 18 matches. "And while there might be an assumption that we're better than Ridgewater because we beat them twice, I'm assuming they're playing their best volleyball now."

Central Lakes, led by a strong sophomore that is full of leaders, is also playing its best now. It's coming off a 25-23, 27-25, 25-21 win over Northland in its region championship game.

The Raiders are clearly led by one player, 6-foot sophomore middle hitter Lindsay Monson. The Pierz graduated has turned in a monster year, with 378 kills. Central Lakes' next highest is Sam Schlangen, with 197.

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