Wagner, Winner get rematch in opening round of Class A volleyball tourney
Every time Winner volleyball coach Jaime Keiser’s team sees the Wagner Red Raiders on its schedule, the match is circled.
The teams faced off twice this season and the Warriors have one more circle left on the schedule. The lone circle remaining on the schedule represents the Class A state tournament first-round meeting between the Warriors and the Red Raiders. The match is at 1:45 p.m. Thursday at Aberdeen Central High School in Aberdeen.
“I think it is going to come down to who will give up the least amount of unearned points,” Keiser said. “Both teams know each other really well. They are not quite who you want to face in the first round, but we have to come out and do what we have done well all year.”
The No. 4 Warriors have defeated the No. 5 Red Raiders in both regular-season contests.
In the first meeting, Winner (25-3) won at home in three sets and followed with a four-set victory on the road. The first win marked the first time in school history that Winner has defeated Wagner in varsity volleyball.
The last and only time Winner qualified for state, it met Wagner in the first round of the 2008 Class A tournament. The Red Raiders won the contest 3-0 en route to claiming their first state title. That year began a string of six straight years — including this year — that Wagner has qualified for state.
The Red Raiders added another state title in 2009. Last season, Wagner went 2-1 at the three-day tournament, winning the consolation championship.
“It has been my fear for a long time that the girls would get complacent,” said Wagner volleyball coach Amy Tyler, whose senior class has never missed a state tournament. “This year, the girls weren’t complacent, and they always tried to strive to get better. It was always in their heads that they didn’t want the streak to end and they worked hard to reach state.”
The Red Raiders earned their state-tournament berth with a five-set win over Mount Vernon/Plankinton Nov. 12 in the Region 5A volleyball championship. Prior to that game, the Red Raiders split two matches with the Titans earlier in the season.
“The girls just love to play volleyball,” Tyler said. “When we come to practice every day, it doesn’t seem like a chore. This year’s team has been a work in progress, but we have changed some things up and worked on new things and have worked hard to get to this point.”
Leading the way for Wagner are senior outside hitters Kim Koupal and Gina Soukup, junior libero Brooklyn Tolliver and senior setter Kayla Deurmier.
Koupal has a team-leading 261 kills, along with 328 digs and 57 aces. Soukup has 211 kills, 196 digs and 44 aces. Tolliver leads the team in digs with 407 and has 53 aces and 55 kills, while Deurmier has a team-leading 530 assists to go along with 171 digs.
“My setter Kayla has been doing a really good job of setting up the offense,” Tyler said. “Our outside hitters Gina and Kim are going to have to have good games Thursday, and we need Brooklyn, who has been doing a great job of running our defense, to play well.”
For Winner, the road to the state tournament started last season. It began when the Warriors fell to Pine Ridge in five sets in the Region 7A championship in 2012. Since that time, the Warriors have been focused on settling unfinished business.
“We talked all year long about how bad it was to lose to Pine Ridge,” Keiser said. “We knew we had a core group of girls coming back and we made up our minds that we wanted to reach state this year.”
The Warriors’ method to reaching state has been with a balanced attack, featuring senior outside hitter Cassidy Hanson, senior setter Sara Husher, senior outside hitter Lindsey Calhoon and junior right side hitter Kelsey Bertram.
Hanson has 275 kills, 30 aces and 340 digs. Husher has a team-leading 680 assists to along with 285 digs and 46 aces. Calhoon has tallied 175 kills and 431 digs, while Bertram has 338 digs, 27 aces and 145 kills.
“We don’t have one true star player, but we have a whole team of good players,” Keiser said. “We need everyone to step up against Wagner and play well.”