H.S. Profile: "Every win feels like our first win"

You'll have to excuse Kristen Peterson, Mckenzie Harper and the rest of the Schaeffer Academy volleyball team when they take glee in victory.

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Schaeffer Academy volleyball coach Gail Peterson conducts practice Monday afternoon at the school. She has been head coach at Schaeffer since 2009.

Kristen Peterson, Mackenzie Harper and the rest of the Schaeffer Academy volleyball team can be excused when they take glee in victory.

It wasn't so long ago when they wondered if a win would ever come at all.

Three years after enduring back-to-back winless seasons, Schaeffer Academy is in position to claim its first Southeast Conference West Division title tonight at Lyle/Austin Pacelli. Both teams are 8-2 in the division.

The word is out in the halls of the small private school which sits practically in the shadow of Century High School in northeast Rochester: These Lions can play.

"In the early days of our program the stands were pretty empty; just parents," said Gail Peterson, in her seventh season as Schaeffer's head volleyball coach. "Now we're seeing more students, teachers and faculty."


Schaeffer is 11-7 overall and enjoying its second straight winning season, with players who got their start in leaner times. The Lions lost 37 straight from 2011, when they entered the MSHSL, to 2013, when they got their first win in the second match of the season at Lanesboro.

"It was really discouraging not to have any (wins) to reap, from all that we had been sewing," said Harper, a senior and co-captain with Peterson, both of whom joined the varsity in eighth grade in 2011.

"It got to the point where the losses didn't hurt as much," Peterson related.

"It makes what's happening now so much sweeter," Harper assured.

"Every win feels like our first win," Kristen seconded.

Coaches are key

Schaeffer's strength is in its balance, with "not really a weak link on the court," according to the coach.

Harper said the team's progression has been due to the players' individual dedication and also to the coaches' skills. She calls the tandem of Gail Peterson and assistant Rich Harris "fantastic."


Harris coaches the junior varsity team, but Peterson said they really co-coach the varsity team together. Harris has two daughters on the team, Emily, a junior and the team's starting libero, and Olivia, a freshman setter.

Harper said the coaches stayed positive during the losing seasons "when they hadn't seen what we could do yet."

"Coach Peterson is more statistical and Mr. Harris, he's more of a practical guy," she conveyed. "They work really well together."

Gail Peterson played high school volleyball at Lakeville under Hall of Fame coach Milan Mader, and the Panthers finished third at state her sophomore year. She was Mader's backyard neighbor and would sometimes get rides to practice with him.

"He was ahead of his time, bringing in college men to practice against his teams," she revealed. "He was highly competitive."

Better years ahead?

As good as the Lions have been this season, Gail Peterson said better years hopefully are ahead.

Sophomore Julianne Hanson is the team's star outside hitter, and the starting rotation also includes two other sophomores and two juniors. There are good numbers in the program with 24 girls in grades 9-11, not bad for a school with just 116 kids in the top four grades this year.


"We are still a very young team and I don't know what we can achieve," the coach said, "but I feel the girls are very passionate about the game."

Harper and Kristen Peterson have been teammates since seventh grade and now they are realizing those days are numbered. Even if they achieve their goal of playing in the subsection final, that's just three weeks away on Halloween.

"This season is so much fun," Kristen said. "We've achieved a lot of firsts as a team, and outside of volleyball we're all really good friends."

Harper may or may not play college volleyball. She is considering Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga., where former teammate Hannah Harris is now playing, and also the University of Minnesota, where she'd play in a club league.

Peterson, who ran on Schaeffer relay teams at the state track meet the last three years, will attend the U of M and play club volleyball.

They hope they've helped build the foundation of a high school program that can keep winning. They know they'll never forget or regret the journey they took together as teammates.

"We all stuck with it, and it made us very, very close, and I'm so thankful for that," Harper said. "It's been, as you can imagine, a very big area of growth, coming from where we were then, to now."

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