Earlier this month, Hopkins High School volleyball coach Vicki Swenson announced her retirement from that position after 25 years. During down time during the Covid-19 quarantine, she realized that being a mom was where her focus needed to be.
Today I'm continuing my look back at some of my favorite John's Journal stories from the 2019-20 school year. I'm putting together my list of Top 10 stories, and while I'm working on that project I'm posting some stories that didn't quite make the cut for the Top 10 but remain important to me.
Today, let's go back to Sept. 19 and a story about the Swenson family.Hopkins Twins Were Born To Play Volleyball
As eighth-graders Olivia and Stella Swenson politely introduced themselves to me during volleyball practice Wednesday at Hopkins High School, I smiled and told them that I had written about them before they were born 14 years ago. It was October 2005 and I was writing about high school sports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Here's how that story began …Hopkins defeated Edina in a high school volleyball match Tuesday night that lasted 58 minutes. Not that anyone is counting the minutes -- other than Hopkins coach Vicki Swenson. She is ready to give birth to twins. She is more than ready. Just ask her husband, Blake football coach Erik Swenson. "I'll tell you what, she's ready to do anything to have these babies," he said.
It's quite the situation. Two coaches, both in the midst of their seasons, awaiting twins who could arrive any day, any hour. Heck, by the time you read this, 8-year-old Samantha Swenson might no longer be an only child.
The twins were born a few days later. Volleyball fans will recognize Samantha's name. She was an all-state player at Hopkins and a four-time all-American and Big Ten player of the year as a University of Minnesota senior in 2018. She recently left to begin a professional volleyball career in France.
The hometown focus now is shifting to Olivia and Stella, who have – no surprise -- grown up with volleyball. They are varsity starters for the Royals, with Olivia hitting and Stella setting. They attend neighboring North Junior High School and walk to the high school for volleyball practice.
It doesn't seem so long ago that everyone was awaiting their birth, and now the twins are playing for their mom.
"Life is just a blur and I can't believe they're (varsity players), it's gone so quickly," Vicki said. "I'm still in touch with most of the players that were here when I was pregnant, and we're all going through the shock of this."
Vicki and Erik have been very busy parents over the years. In the wake of tragedy, they adopted her sister Teri Lee's four children; their father was killed in a vehicle accident five years before Teri was murdered in 2006 by an ex-boyfriend who was sentenced to life in prison. The oldest of Teri's children is now 25 and the household that once held 10 people is down to five; Vicki, Erik, Olivia, Stella and 11-year-old Eva.
"You just really try to kind of enjoy these last few years," Vicki said. “It goes so quickly. (The twins) have five summers left at home so we're just going to enjoy every minute of it.”
In the meantime, there is lots of volleyball to be played. This is an especially busy week for the Royals, with matches Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and the Apple Valley Eagle Invitational on Friday and Saturday. The Royals went to the Class 3A state tournament in 2015, 2016 and 2017, with hopes of returning this season.
There are always expectations for any successful program, and when the roster includes children of the coach – not to mention especially young children – that can bring more pressure.
“I think there's always pressure, given their age, when you have younger players playing significant roles on a varsity team,” Vicki said. “There's always pressure on them and it's not always fair. Thankfully their talent speaks for itself. And they can hold their own. I'm really proud of them but they definitely are a known commodity; people know who they are and they better not dare mess up, right? Everybody certainly knows their big sister.”
The twins realize there may be a spotlight on them, but they’re OK with that.
“There's lots of pressure,” Stella said. “And it's the pressure of us trying to prove that we're on the team for a reason. Not just because our parent’s the coach, but that we are on the team because we're good players. We deserve to be on the team. And she just wants the best from us.”
Olivia added, “There's a lot of pressure because she expects us to do well and sometimes we aren't doing as well as we hope to. She helps us get better, she expects a lot of us, but we get the pressure of being the coach's kid.”
Samantha has been a great help to the twins, on the court and off. For years she watched Olivia and Stella play, whether in high school or Junior Olympic seasons. And the rest of the family rarely missed watching Samantha play for the Gophers.
“Going to all her games, I've learned a lot from that,” Olivia said. “And I love how we support each other. She's always there for me, and she's one of my biggest role models in life. I have a lot to look forward to with her being my older sister.”
Stella, who plays the same position as Samantha, said, “It's taught me so much just watching her play in practice. Ever since I remember I've been coming to her practices and watching her set and trying to copy what she does. And she's just a huge role model in my life.”
Growing up in a large household with parents who coached and older siblings involved in sports, Stella and Olivia focused on volleyball from an early age. They really had no choice but to concentrate on the sport they have always loved.
“We were raising five older kids that were all in sports, and we simply didn't know how to add anything else,” Vicki said. “Those two never played T-ball, for gosh sakes, they never played soccer, but they turned out OK.
“They also grew up with the neighborhood kids playing twenty-one, playing lightning, playing everything. As much as we talk about kids being on their phones and tablets, my kids were outside playing and playing hard even though they weren't on an organized team. With older brothers and sisters, they were baseball catchers, they were target practice as goalies, you name it.”
Vicki is sometimes known by her maiden name (Vicki Seliger), which can lead to minor confusion. She recently received an email from a member of the media, inquiring about the two youngsters on the roster and not realizing Vicki was their mom.
“The email said, ‘Do you really have two eighth-graders that start, and are their last names Swenson? Are they sisters? Are they related?’
“It was kind of refreshing,” said the mother of twins. --Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.