As White Bear Lake’s volleyball coach has worked to build up a struggling program since taking over in 2017, one foot-soldier he’s always been able to depend upon is his setter, Savannah Shea.

“Her dedication to the program never ceased to amaze me,” Mike Alexander said. “Any coach would be happy to to have a player like ‘Sav’ to build a program around.”

Shea finished her four-year tenure with 1,091 assists, including a career-high 560 this year. Her finale came when the Bears lost a five-game match to St. Paul Central on Oct. 22 in Section 4AAA.

Win or lose, Shea said it’s been a blast.

“I have always loved playing for the school team. Even if the record doesn’t always show it, it’s a great time being with my teammates. Home games are especially fun, even if there’s just a small student rooting section to support you. It’s so nice to hear them shouting Go Bears! and Go Sav!”

For a decade before Alexander took over, the Bears averaged about four wins per year. In Shea’s four seasons, they’ve gone 7-22, 9-19, 6-20, and 8-16, the last three under Alexander.

“I think every year we have been getting a little better,” Shea said. “We play in a super hard conference, and that’s where we have a lot of our losses. Outside the conference we do a lot better.”

Alexander cites Shea for “incredible drive and work ethic” along with the speed and agility needed to “beat the ball to the spot” where she’ll be in best position to make the set.

Asked what it takes to be a good setter — to consistently loft a feather-soft ball right where one of the big girls can best smack it into the floorboards — she assessed:

“Well, definitely you need soft hands. And quick feet. And knowing who your hottest hitters are, which changes during the game. And tons of hustle, because you’re always running across the court.”

Shea notched her 1,000th at Stillwater on Oct. 8, with Kendra Gustafson making the kill on that one.

She did not get the ovation and recognition most athletes are accorded when they reach such a milestone. At home, the action would be stopped and an announcement made. This was on the road, where there’s usually at least an announcement. “But their P.A. system was broken,” said Shea. So, not even an announcement.

However, her team knew.

“We had a time out. They hugged me and said congratulations and that they were proud of me and I was so deserving,” Shea related. “My coach told me this had not been done (at White Bear Lake) for a long time.” Also, a friend hoisted a sign emblazoned with “1,000 assists, Sav Shea.”

Her main hitters this year were senior Maddie Andacht and sophomore Sammie Steffens. Previously the hitter who got the most kills from Shea was Courtney Moy. Meanwhile, the serve-receiver who starts the play by getting the ball to the setter was usually senior libero Isabella Bottacletti.

The 5-foot-5 Shea has been a setter since she started in sixth grade, except for one season as a libero on her Junior Olympics team, and a brief stint at DS (defensive specialist) with the Bears her sophomore year. She plays around the dial, never leaving the court, and made over 100 digs this year.

Her favorite individual matches were the career-ending loss to St. Paul Central “because we played so well” and a five-game win over Chicago Lakes her sophomore season because it ended a long losing streak.

A year-round volleyballer, Shea will continue with her club team, Sybergy, based in Champlin, this winter, and hopes to land on a college team.

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