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It's go time: Day 1 of high school sports season brings anticipation, excitement

The high school fall sports seasons kicked off on Monday across Minnesota. Among the teams excited to get the 2022-23 season going: The Stewartville volleyball team (with eight seniors on its roster) and the girls tennis teams at Century and Mayo, who are both playing on newly resurfaced courts.

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Stewartville's Regan Reker returns the volleyball to a teammate on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022, on the first day of volleyball practice at Bear Cave Intermediate School in Stewartville.
Pat Ruff / Post Bulletin
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It’s in the books.

Monday, the first day of the 2022 high school athletic season has come and gone, with boys and girls soccer, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, football, volleyball and boys and girls cross country practices having kicked off.

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Rankings based on the votes of media member across the state of Minnesota.

Per usual, it was a day of excitement, nerves, relief and with the knowledge that a whole bunch of hard work is in front of hundreds of athletes and coaches in southeastern Minnesota.

Stewartville right-side hitter and fourth-year varsity volleyball player Regan Reker couldn’t wait to get started.

“I was so excited that I woke up at 7 this morning ready to roll,” said Reker, whose team began practice at noon. “This is my last year, and I am ready to go out with a bang and work hard.”

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Stewartville volleyball Hall of Fame head coach John Dzubay experienced his first opening day with the Tigers 41 years ago. The 73-year-old has always regarded these “openers” as special for him and his athletes.

Dzubay couldn’t miss the sense of anticipation in the air Monday. Part of that was having eight seniors on this team. That’s a big number.

“Those kids are pumped up because this is their last year,” he said. “Usually you have just a few seniors; last year we had three. But this is going to be a fun year because it is their last year. There is more urgency to it when they realize this is their last chance. Seniors tend to come around and play better than they ever have. They can’t wait to get things going.”

There was newness being absorbed at a couple of Rochester athletic sites, and a bit of a letdown for one team that wasn’t experiencing the thrill of moving into a new venue. At least not yet.

It was the Century girls swimming and diving team that felt the latter. Century High School has never had its own pool. That will change soon, as a pool is under construction at the school in northeast Rochester. Panthers athletes and coaches had believed that it would be open by October. That start date has now been pushed back to November, according to Panthers coach Dale Magnuson, meaning this girls team will have to wait until next year to move in.

So back to Willow Creek Middle School they went for practice on Monday, with diving sessions happening for all three Rochester public schools at John Marshall. The Willow Creek and Mayo pools are too shallow to accommodate diving.

While disappointing for the Century swimmers and divers, Magunson said the joy of a new season overrode any frustration over not yet having new digs.

At least that was sure true for him.

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Magnuson welcomed his team to a new season Monday afternoon with a large smile and abundant optimism. There are 52 Panthers on this year’s talent-laden roster.

“That first day is always fun,” said Magnuson, whose team has won the Big Nine Conference two of the last three seasons, including last year. “It’s great to see everyone again and to see new faces on the team. I’m really excited for the potential of this team. I think we can be really good. We’ve got a lot of strong swimmers.”

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Rochester Century girls tennis coach Kris Allen addresses her team on Monday, Aug. 15, the first day of practice, at Century.
Pat Ruff / Post Bulletin

At the Century and Mayo tennis courts, smiles abounded. Much of that was due to those girls teams now frolicking on newly surfaced tennis courts, with fresh fences and practice boards to hit against at each.

All of it thrilled Kris Allen. She is the former 11-year Century assistant tennis coach who is now its head coach. She replaces Josh Heiden, who’d directed things for 12 years.

“These courts are beautiful,” Allen said. “To be able to play on courts that are brand new, with no cracks, no mold spots or holes in the fences is great. It makes you want to play better simply because your facility is so much better.”

The Century players appreciated the look and feel of their new digs. They were also keen on simply being together again.

“It is exciting and relieving to see the other girls,” Century junior Sarah Nevenheim said. “We’re all so excited to be here.”

Fellow Century junior Reetu Gurung appreciates the time together as much as anything when it comes to playing for her team. But she knows what so many of the new players were feeling Monday — nervousness.

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For so many, going through that opening day was brand new.

“I remember that first day, when I was an eighth-grader,” Gurung said. “I was super nervous.”

But not anymore.

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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