Wagner looking to use experience, late win streak at Class A state tourneyWAGNER — Although it’s been nerve-wracking at times, Wagner volleyball coach Amy Tyler is pleased her team hasn’t received a smooth path to another state tournament.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
WAGNER — Although it’s been nerve-wracking at times, Wagner volleyball coach Amy Tyler is pleased her team hasn’t received a smooth path to another state tournament.
Sure, Wagner High School (30-3) is on a nine-match win streak. But when looking closely at the Red Raiders’ set scores throughout the playoffs, there hasn’t been an easy night en route to their fifth straight Class A state tournament appearance.
“It’s nice to see the girls can push through momentum shifts,” said Tyler, a ninth-year head coach whose team opened the year with 13 straight wins. “I like the three-and-outs, but pushing through five sets kind of says something about our team. If there’s one thing to praise these girls about, it’s they never give up.”
The fifth-seeded Red Raiders open their state tournament run at 1:45 p.m. Thursday in Watertown Wagner opens play as underdogs against fourth-seeded Dakota Valley (26-3).
Though, maybe the non-favorite roll is where Wagner will feel more comfortable late this season.
In the first round of the District 10A tournament against Parkston, top-seeded Wagner needed a four-set win to beat fourth-seeded Parkston. Then, Wagner picked up a come-from-behind, five-set win over Platte-Geddes in the district championship and used another rally win to beat Tri-Valley in the Region 5A match for a state berth.
“There were a couple times in the Platte-Geddes game that we could have been done,” Tyler said, “and the girls just decided they didn’t want to be done yet.”
The desire to get to state probably comes from the high standards set at Wagner High School in recent years on the volleyball court.
In the previous four state tournaments, the Red Raiders have won state titles, a runner-up finish and a third-place trophy.
Last year, Wagner lost to Sioux Falls Christian in the title match, giving SFC its second straight Class A championship. The previous year, Wagner lost its bid for a three-peat when the Red Raiders lost to SFC in the semifinals. This season, the Red Raiders haven’t faced Sioux Falls Christian, but Tyler said the two-time defending champion could be the favorite.
The Red Raiders’ first-round opponent has fallen to SFC twice this season. Tyler called Dakota Valley an “all-around good team.” She expects a close match and added one of the keys for her squad will be to use all five of its hitters to keep the offense rolling.
Senior Nicole Weber leads Wagner with 183 total kills on the season. Juniors Gina Soukup (123 kills) and Kim Koupal (115 kills) also have made an impact on the team’s offense. Alex Dvorak and Ali Kuca are the team’s middle hitters, totaling a combined 125 kills.
Setter Jessa Doom leads the team with 50 aces on the year, adding 90 kills and averaging 8.4 assists per set. This is the third state tournament the 5-foot-9 senior will be running the offense for the Red Raiders.
Defensively, libero Sydney Breen leads the team with 250 digs. Doom has 167 digs, Weber has 145, Delaynie Dickerson has 133 and Koupal has 119.
“One of the big things we have going for us is state tournament experience,” Tyler said. “The girls have been here and have gotten to the big game. I really think experience will help us this weekend.”
Belle Fourche is the top seed in Class A with a 31-1 record. The Red Raiders will see either Belle Fourche or Mobridge-Pollock in the second round.
Other Class A first-round pairings are No. 3 Sioux Falls Christian against No. 6 Aberdeen Roncali and No. 2 Pine Ridge vs. No. 7 Sioux Valley.