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Players 'Dig Pink' for coach

Superior volleyball coach Brenda Pluntz celebrates with her team during the Spartans match with Rice Lake in Superior on Tuesday. Jed Carlson / 1 / 5
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Tuesday's Dig for Pink volleyball match between the Superior Spartans and conference leader Denfeld Hunters is more than a game. It's a chance to wear pink, back the team and donate to breast cancer research

This year, it's also a show of support for the Spartans' head volleyball coach Brenda Pluntz, who has been battling breast cancer since July.

"I know Dig Pink is going to be a really important night for us," said senior captain Jordyn O'Brien. "It definitely hits home with all of us because she's been my coach since I was 12."

For the last five years, Superior High School volleyball players have held the annual Dig for Pink game.

"It's tradition now," said Pluntz.

The event includes a bake sale, Chinese auctions, fun photo booth and apparel for sale. At the end of the tournament, players' pink jerseys will be auctioned off. The funds raised — up to $1,500 a year — are earmarked for the nonprofit Side-Out Foundation to support breast cancer research. Up to a quarter of the money donated is allocated to local programs that support cancer patients and their families.

Dig for Pink held meaning from the start.

"Everybody knows somebody who's been touched breast cancer," said Laurie Dolsen, one of the Spartan Dig Pink 2017 parent coordinators.

But Pluntz' battle affects all 33 players.

"I've spent a lot of time with her ... I've worked a lot one-on-one with her, too. I know I can tell her whatever I need to," said O'Brien, 17. "She's really supportive of all of us, too. Even if we disagree on something, it's like she's almost a friend too."

The diagnosis came about because Pluntz was digging into whether she had skin cancer, something two family members were dealing with. To get a referral to a dermatologist, Pluntz went in for a physical.

During the exam, the doctor noted she was due for a mammogram and asked if she wanted to get that done. She said "Sure."

They found she had ductal carcinoma in situ, early stage breast cancer.

"But I didn't have skin cancer," Pluntz said.

She had a lumpectomy in early August and finished four weeks of radiation treatment Monday.

"I don't let it affect my coaching or anything," Pluntz said, but players learned about it because she couldn't toss balls when practice started.

One of the parents asked her to share her story.

"I said 'Sure, I can do that,'" Pluntz said. "I'll be an advocate for early detection ... It affects a lot of people. Mine is relatively minor compared to what some women go through."

Game time

The Dig for Pink C-Team and junior varsity games kick off at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at Superior High School, followed by the varsity match at 7 p.m.

The Spartans know they'll have a strong showing in the bleachers.

"We always have a really big fan section, they're really supportive here," O'Brien said. "Actually when we went to Denfeld, our fan section ended up being bigger than theirs."

Everyone is invited to join the crowd, whether they dig pink or not.

"Look for some hard work and some great volleyball," said Pluntz. "We have a great team that works well together."

Superior lost to Denfeld in four games earlier this year, O'Brien said.

"But for the past two years we've lost there and then when they come here to play, we've won," the senior said. "So we're hoping for a win."

With strong outside hitters on both teams, O'Brien said the win could come down to which team has the stronger defense.

At the end of the tournament, players will auction off their jerseys. O'Brien said the back of each will show their support for Pluntz: "We play for our hero and we call her coach."

Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for students. Adults wearing pink or Dig Pink apparel to the game will snag half-price admission; kids can attend for free.

For more information on the event and auction prizes — including a quilt sewn by a three-time cancer survivor — visit the Superior Spartan Dig For Pink Volleyball game vs Denfeld Hunters Facebook page. It includes a link to donate for those who can't attend the game.