Volleyball-loving morkens made things work in Mabel-Canton – Reuters

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MABEL — Lonnie Morken spent 29 years coaching volleyball at Mabel-Canton.

For many of those years he did this while providing extra tuition for two of his three daughters, Mabel-Canton senior Sophie and sophomore Sahara.

Eldest daughter Sadie was under her volleyball wing until she was in second grade when she decided Lonnie’s sporting passion wasn’t her thing.

“Sadie didn’t have the same volleyball training that (Sophie and Sahara) did,” Lonnie said. “She was more of a dancer and an actress and ended up going to the Perpich Center for the Arts (in the golden valley). It was a great decision for her.

Just as Sophie and Sahara were very happy to grow attached to volleyball and more specifically to glean all they can about it from their father, one of the most respected high school volleyball coaches and Minnesota’s best-loved.

Lonnie Morken, 51, had little to do with either.

“They were really interested in volleyball at a very young age,” he said. “They followed me a lot. I could tell there was going to be a lot of interest from them. When they were young, I didn’t know if there was talent there. But their motivation was very obvious. This was especially true for Sophie. She is one of those rare girls who loves volleyball as much as I do. There are days when I don’t want to do anything more with volleyball, but she does when even do it. It’s fun when that happens.

It turns out Sophie and Sahara aren’t just addicted to the game, they’re great at it, too.

Sophie, who is 5ft 7in, transferred to Mabel-Canton University as an eighth grader and has been a tenured since her second year. Sahara, just 5-4 but with incredible jumping ability and speed, got an even earlier college introduction, partly out of need, with fewer older players on the team as it rose. Sahara was already a seventh-grade varsity player and was the Cougars’ starting libero a year later.

Both succeeded, to say the least.

Sophie, an outside hitter, was the Southeastern Conference co-player of the year last season when she had 438 digs, 300 kills and 58 service aces. Sahara, a setter, entered the Mabel-Canton record book a year ago when she totaled 1,039 assists in a single season. She also had 252 digs and 62 service aces for a Mabel-Canton team that once again shone, finishing 24-4, including 14-0 in the Southeastern Conference.

Lonnie Morken said he was grateful to have the chance to coach one of his daughters. But having two at the same time, even with the occasional difficulty of training a daughter or a son, has been a blessing.

“Two of mine at the same time was something,” Lonnie said. “I had trained sisters before, but not my own daughters. So it’s nice because I’m still with them. I have the best job in the world to be able to be with my own children and teach them something they are passionate about.

Sophie and Sahara are equally indebted to the time spent with their father. Although there were minor bumps along the way, with Lonnie sometimes being harder on them than they liked in their early years, they considered it a great journey with him.

It doesn’t hurt that Lonnie is no ordinary coach. He’s a relative master, as his 757-138 career record suggests.

“I really liked having him as my coach,” said Sophie. “There is a certain pressure to be coached by your father; that’s the downside. People expect you to be good because of it. But being his daughter is an honor. Coaches look at you differently because they know you are being coached by someone very good.

Sahara, more open and less intense than Sophie — but also more sensitive — appreciates Lonnie’s approach. She says her dad isn’t pushy with them, but never misses an opportunity to spend more time with them at the gym, working on their skills, if they want.

“I’m honored to have him as my coach,” Sahara said. “He makes it fun and he makes me discover lots of new things. I can work on some one-on-one stuff with him. In the summer we are in the gym almost every day.

It’s not just Lonnie who coaches Sahara. She also gets some of it from her big sister.

Sahara, the more “talkative” of the two, can drift into conversations with her teammates during practices.

Her timing isn’t always perfect, with Lonnie sometimes trying to make a point just as Sahara walks away.

The coach can almost always count on extra support at such times. He gets it from that other “coach on the pitch”, Sophie.

“Sahara is more of an outgoing person, and sometimes I have to nag her about it,” Lonnie said. “She’ll talk to someone else and then I’ll watch her. Then I look at Sophie, and she is already looking at her.

This Lonnie, Sophie and Sahara thing, it works.

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