Laura Knoblach isn’t sure what to make of St. Cloud Christian’s first varsity home match, except that she can’t wait.
“We’re really excited,” the senior setter said. “We’re done really well at our away games and had a lot of fans follow us. It should be even more exciting to have a home game.”
The Warriors play Hope Christian School at 7:15 p.m. Monday at St. Cloud Cathedral’s North Gym.
It’s the first volleyball varsity home match for St. Cloud Christian, which has had a season-full of firsts for the tiny private school on St. Cloud’s northeast side.
While the Warriors have had varsity athletes compete in a variety of sports mostly in cooperative agreements with other schools, this is the first full-fledged, regulation varsity team the Christian School has put together.
“It’s just really fun to be able to have a program start, to be the first one,” Warriors head coach Karla Hultgren said.
The Christian School has had athletes run in track and cross country representing the school, though the Warriors usually are small in number. They have cooperative agreements with Cathedral, St. Cloud Apollo and St. Cloud Tech in a number of other sports.
But the 14 varsity players on the volleyball team are wearing the Christian School purple and white and competing as the Warriors.
“It’s really fun,” junior Caraline Watkins said. “It’s a great group of girls.”
The Christian School was more than ready for varsity volleyball this season and the Warriors have done it the right way. They’ve had a volleyball program since 2005, but never played above the junior varsity level until this season.
They played several varsity programs last year and did well enough to think they were ready for the rigors of the Christian Athletic League, the Warriors’ first official association with a conference for their Minnesota State High School League-recognized program.
“The girls so badly wanted to be in a conference,” Hultgren said. “They’ve gotten real excited about that.”
The Warriors have a 3-1 record heading into a match Friday at Immanuel Lutheran School in Mankato.
One glance at the potential front line is all that is needed to see that the Warriors were ready for varsity competition.
There is 6-foot-2 Stephani Knutson, 6-1 Lauren Gillson and 6-0 Tonia Gillson. They give the Christian School the tallest starting lineup in St. Cloud.
“They all work really hard,” Knoblach said. “It’s a blessing to be on a team that’s so encouraging. There aren’t any mean words.”
The Christian School’s first high school graduation was in 2004. The school opened in 1979. It has students from 37 different denominations and lists 61 students in grades 9-12 on the state high school league website.
There are three seniors on the roster: Knoblach, Tonia Gillson and Jordan Carlson.
Two juniors, Watkins and Ahnah Cole, also are on the team.
Knutson and Lauren Gillson lead the six-person sophomore class that includes Kristian Richart, Madison Hultgren (the coach’s daughter), Allison Gordon and Hadessah Loven.
There are two ninth-graders, Lexi Theisen and Karrigan Ohstad, as well as eighth-grader Madison Schneider.
There also is a full junior high squad that also practices at the Christian School, which is located at the old Jefferson Elementary School.
“I think they have a lot of potential,” said Hultgren, a physical education and health instructor at the Christian School for 15 years. Besides volleyball, Hultgren also is head track and field coach.
“They play real well together as a team and they all have good character,” Hultgren said. “They all want to try their best and be successful as a team. It almost feels like they’re sisters.”
Hultgren has good help, too. Laura Knutson and Meredith Oistad are her assistant coaches. Oistad played college volleyball at Arizona Christian. Hultgren said they have been integral to getting the program going and helping it already be successful.
The Warriors opened with a 3-1 loss to Cambridge Christian School, but has since reeled off victories over Faith Christian, PACT Charter School and Hope Christian.
As a group, they have a lot of volleyball experience, having played at the youth, elementary school and junior high levels and participating in area Junior Olympic programs.
“It’s a fun group to work with,” Hultgren said. “They’ve come through the ranks. Most of them have been playing since fifth and sixth grade in the PAA (Parochial Athletic Association).
There’s also talent. The Gillsons are tall and athletic.
“Their whole family is volleyball crazy,” Knoblach said with a smile.
“They are all like volleyball superstars,” Watkins said.
Tonia Gillson said she’d like to play volleyball in college.
“I’d love to,” said Gillson, who started playing in 10th grade.
Knoblach hopes to continue her volleyball career in college, too.
“I would really like to play volleyball in college,” said Knoblach, who is interested in attending Bethel. “I started playing in sixth grade and I really got hooked on it. I love it.”
Hultgren is nervous about pulling off a home match. The Warriors also have home matches scheduled for Sept. 28 in the rematch with Cambridge Christian, Oct. 1 vs. Faith Christian and Oct. 8 vs. Valley Christian.
They also will participate in the CAL post-season tournament Oct. 26-27 at Valley Christian, which plays its home matches in St. Croix, Wis.
Hultgren said she has lined up someone to sing the national anthem and someone to say a prematch prayer. She is hoping activities director Paul Hastings has everything else covered.
And she’s hoping someone shows up.
“We’re hoping to get a bunch of people to come out,” she said.