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Four star for NOMA junior olympic volleyball team

The NOMA Stars 15s hone their skills in the offseason. Pictured are, from left, front row, Lauren Tarvin (North High), Sara Heimer (North High), Marissa Hill (North High), Lauren Olson (Cottage Grove Junior High), Ashley Sutton (Cottage Grove Junior High), and Cassie Meyer (Cottage Grove Junior High); back row, Mathias Baden, Kate Ladwig (Roseville High School), Jackie Rank (Mahtomedi High School), Erin Prax (North High) and Erika Allery (Cottage Grove Junior High).

One of the most popular sports in the world, as far as participation, is volleyball. Although the typical season for high-school volleyball is in the fall, players hone their skills year round.

In the offseason, athletes have a number of options to continue playing volleyball.

One of those options is junior olympic volleyball.

Contrary to what some may think, junior olympic volleyball has nothing to do with the Olympics, although the men's and women's Olympic teams and the teams in junior olympic volleyball all play under the USA volleyball blanket.

The NOMA Stars are part of the North Country Region of USA Volleyball. According to the organization's Web site, "NOMA Stars Volleyball, founded in 1998, is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing character, commitment, leadership, competitiveness and volleyball skills in young women."

"Basically (NOMA) a highly competitive offseason program for kids from 10 to 18 years old." NOMA Stars 15s head coach Mathias Baden said. "These are serious players. Your worst high school players probably can't play junior olympics. We practice two or three times a week and have 11 game dates and tournaments. We'll play roughly 33 games during a season, depending on how well we do. Most of these girls are on a high school team or are aspiring to play on a high school team or on a MI team."

NOMA is an acronym for the North St. Paul, Oakdale and Maplewood areas. The name reflects the Twin Cites region where most NOMA volleyball players reside and go to school.

However, four players from Cottage Grove are part of this year's NOMA Stars 15-and-under squad that is coached by Baden.

Middle hitters Ashley Sutton and Erika Allery and setter Lauren Olson and hitter/defensive stopper Cassie Meyer are all ninth graders at Cottage Grove Junior High and are all members of the NOMA Stars 15s.

Sutton, Allery, Olson, Meyer and the rest of the NOMA Stars 15s play in the Ralia Power League, whose home will be the Ralia Sports Center in Maple Grove.

"That will basically be our home court," NOMA 15s head coach Mathias Baden said. "We have three tournaments there and we will probably play three games in each of those tournaments."

The NOMA Stars 15s started practice in early December and will play games until April 18. One highlight of the NOMA Stars 15s' season will be a President's Day Tournament on February 14 and 15.

"The kids really get geared up for that tournament," Baden said. "There's over 100 teams and it's a Twin Cities-wide tournament. They play in gyms all over the metro. That's a huge deal for them."

Other big events will be the Crossfire Tournament at Bethel University and the Granite City Tournament in St. Cloud, which will both be in March, and trips to Mankato and Rochester in April.

"The girls get a lot out of (tournaments)," Baden said. "The tournaments bring in a lot of teams from out of state. It's pretty cool for these girls to see how they match up."

In addition to Sutton, Allery, Olson and Meyer, Baden also has ties to south Washington County.

Baden was a former South Washington County Bulletin reporter and intern. He is not very experienced as a volleyball player (12 years of recreation and tournament volleyball, mostly as a hitter), but is a fairly experienced coach, as he has been a head boys basketball coach for Maplewood Parks and Recreation the past eight years.

Baden's wife, Jaymee, played volleyball for North St. Paul and played in the junior olympic program. Jaymee coached the 15-year old age group for a long time, however she wanted to move up with one specific team to the 16-year old age group, so Baden stepped in.

Baden said, overall, most of his team of 15-year olds like to practice and know how to pass, set and serve, but need help on hitting.

"That's typical for 15 year olds," Baden said. "But, my team loves to hit."

Baden said that Sutton, Allery, Olson and Meyer each have different skills, but that they are each exceptional servers.

"They might be my four best servers overall," Baden said. "They're very precise servers."

Baden said Sutton is an exceptional server and blocker and that Allery is a very hard server and hitter. He said Olson is a great passer and could fill a role as the team's libero and that Meyer is very athletic and could also play libero or be a back-row passer in the team's 6-2 rotation.

On Jan. 4, the NOMA Stars 15s finished 10th in a 12-team Ralia Power League tournament at Osseo High School.

"We can do better," Baden said. "Because we hadn't practiced as a full team in two weeks, we came into the day a little rusty and apprehensive. But that is not an excuse for anything. Still, I'm proud of these girls. They hate to lose. In the playoffs, especially, I think we saw a team that has a lot of fight in it. Each set, we got a little better as a team."

For more information on the NOMA Stars 15's visit