The Madison Lady Bulldogs volleyball team will have some big shoes to fill in the front line after losing four of its five hitters from last season.

“We will have some big shoes to fill, but I am confident that we can do it,” said 10th-year head coach Jill Kratovil.

Back this season is second-team Dakota XII All-Conference setter Kylie Krusemark. She went over the 1,000-set assists plateau at the State A Tournament last season.

Oher key returnees include honorable mention All-Conference selection Raena Rost (Libero), Ali Vacanti, Abby Morse and Audrey Nelson.

Krusemark, Rost, Vacanti and Morse are seniors; Nelson is a sophomore.

“Vacanti was a defensive specialist for us last year, but we will be looking to her offensively this season,” Kratovil said.

Morse is a middle hitter and one of the hardest workers on the floor, according to Kratovil.

“She will be stepping into a key role this season for us in the middle,” Kratovil said.

Nelson came on strong at the end of the season last year and excelled this summer in club volleyball, according to Kratovil.

“She continues to get stronger and faster, which will make her a great defender at the net,” said Kratovil.

Kratovil believes that defense will be a strength of the Lady Bulldogs as the season kicks off this week.

“Defensively, we should be scrappy with a lot of experience coming back in the back row,” she said.

Kratovil tabs Dakota Valley and Sioux Falls Christian as the teams to beat in the Dakota XII Conference this season. She said that both teams return several key players.

Kratovil said that Dakota Valley, Sioux Falls Christian and Rapid City Christian are the teams to beat in Class A as all have successful programs.

“We lost a big senior class last season due to graduation,” Kratovil said. All-Stater Abby Brooks, All-Conference player Sophia Vanden Bosch, Autumn Barger and Skyler Sargent all graduated in May.

Madison finished with an 18-5 overall record and placed fifth in the State A Tournament last season.

Madison will open the season at home on Thursday night against non-conference foe Flandreau Fliers. The C-match starts at 5 p.m., followed by the junior varsity and varsity matches.

“I am excited for the season to get started to see what these girls can do,” Kratovil said. “They have been working hard, and I am just ready for these girls to compete.”

Assisting Kratovil this season are Katie Weeldryer and Mercedes Moeller.