A conversation with Kara Nunziato
Kara Nunziato is the head coach for the reigning six-time Region 6 Tournament champion Our Redeemer’s volleyball team.
The Minot Daily News spoke with Nunziato recently about summer volleyball plans, the Minot volleyball community and the ongoing Knights’ dynasty. Some responses are edited for brevity and clarity.
MDN: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your summer volleyball schedule?
KN: It’s definitely going to look very different from previous seasons. But we have (talked) with Trinity Sports Medicine and have a plan in place. We will still have some gym opportunities, and we will be following the guidelines that are given to us from the state and CDC.
MDN: Do you expect it to be similar to a normal offseason program?
KN: Right now, it’s going to be working in smaller groups and doing social distancing. It will be a lot more skill development than play, I imagine. But working on the basics will set the tone for our performance in the fall.
MDN: The ongoing streak of six straight state tournament appearances is quite an accomplishment. Did you think this was a possibility when you took over at Our Redeemer’s?
KN: No. My focus has always been to get the girls to fall in love with the game and give them the best high school experience. Getting to the state tournament is the ultimate goal for every team. So, to make it six straight, we are really grateful.
The legacy just continues. Those who step into leadership roles this year want to continue that streak and are willing to work hard in any way despite the changes of what our summer program will look like.
MDN: How would you describe the volleyball community here in Minot?
KN: I think volleyball has come a long way, especially when I think back to 10-15 years ago. It’s fun to have Sherry Carlson coaching at Minot High, who was at Our Redeemer’s previously, and even Nick Theis at Bishop Ryan. He graduated from Our Redeemer’s and was an assistant under us for a while. Volleyball as a whole has really grown.
MDN: What were you able to learn from Sherry Carlson?
KN: She was one of the best coaches I had as a player. When she took me under her wing as an assistant coach, she completely mentored me on what a coach should do and say.
One thing she said was that you always have to continue to learn and grow with the sport. Even our athletes know that over the summer we are learning more about the game, which stems from Sherry’s philosophy.
MDN: Every year, despite players coming and going, the Knights always have one of the best defenses in the state. What’s the secret to making that happen?
KN: We go to (University of) Jamestown’s team volleyball camp, and we have really adopted its defensive methods into our program. With all of the drills and skills (head coach) Jon Hegerle does at Jamestown, we go there, learn and bring those back. (Our players) start learning and developing those skills as early as the sixth grade.
MDN: The 2016 state championship is still one of the most entertaining high school volleyball matches in my recent memory. LaMoure managed to hold on and win the fifth set after ORCS rallied back from a 2-0 deficit. What do you still remember about that night at the Fargodome?
KN: We had a really solid team. That was the year we had Morgan Olson, who was named the Outstanding Athlete of the Year at the state level. The whole team was extremely talented. They started playing with each other early on.
I also remember the injuries and illnesses that we had in that last match.
But that whole season was about a really talented junior and senior group. That group alone really set the tone. I mean, those girls started for me as freshmen. Their legacy is definitely not forgotten.
MDN: What’s it going to take to finally win that elusive state title?
KN: You know, it’s really hard to win three straight at the state tournament. I think every year when we get back into the gym, we have one goal in mind. That’s to be consistently good at the end of the season to make it back to the state tournament.
Then, in order to win the state tournament, you have to peak at the right time, have minimal injuries and get good matchups.
MDN: What are some of your favorite volleyball memories?
KN: As a coach, every year, there are always great memories. In the summer, it’s really fun to travel with them and spend time with them in a not so serious (environment). It’s more lighthearted in the summer.
It’s great to get the know the girls and watch their leadership skills grow throughout the years as well.
I could tell you stories about each athlete. I remember them all.
It’s just a privilege to be a part of their high school careers, and I can’t imagine coaching in a different volleyball community.
MDN: How important is it to build that team chemistry?
KN: In the sport of volleyball, I think it’s probably the No. 1 thing. You can have the most talented team in the state, but if they don’t get along, then you are never going to see them at their best.
With some of the teams I’ve coached, we might not be as athletically stacked in terms of height or speed, but we are unified on the court. That has allowed us to come out on top over teams that happened to be more athletically gifted than us.
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.