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Wesleyan volleyball looking for breakthrough

Last year was a learning experience for the Dakota Wesleyan University women's volleyball team.

The team with one senior finished 7-27 overall and 2-14 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. But this year, the Tigers are a little older and more experienced, and sixth-year head coach Eric Viney would like to see his team vault into the middle of the conference standings.

"We are excited," Viney said. "We are ready to get ourselves on the road and start playing against some other players and some other teams. We have been in the gym for a week, and we still have a few more days of preparation but we are looking forward to the start of the season."

The Tigers' first test comes Friday against St. Ambrose University and William Penn University at the Mount Mercy University tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. DWU's first game starts at 3:45 p.m. and the second starts at 5:30 p.m.

Last year, the Tigers finished 10th in the conference. In the preseason poll released Aug. 12. from the GPAC, Wesleyan was predicted to finish last.

"We always say we would like to be somewhere in the middle of the pack in conference," Viney said. "We think that would help catapult our program. ... Everything we do is about building and better the previous output and that is what we are attempting to do."

The Tigers will rely on a few players to ensure they finish better than what is expected.

Leading the way for Wesleyan will be middle hitter Rachel Tinklenberg. The junior was named to the all-GPAC honorable mention list last season after recording 236 kills and 3.09 points per game.

Viney said he expects a lot of blocks and kills from his all-conference player this season.

Also back for the Tigers is Katie Lindow and Maggie Stehly. Stehly, a defensive specialist, had a team-high 347 digs last year, while Lindow, an outside hitter, was third on the team with 302.

"We had a learning curve with our setters and brand new outside hitters last year," Viney said. "But we have gained a lot of experience throughout the spring and are capable of putting it all together at the the tempo we have been training for. ... We are going to have the capability to run a faster tempo type of offense. We couldn't do that last year because we had so much youth."

Absent from this year's squad are Elizabeth Mahsem, Sam Sandau, Kelli Swenson and Sammy Fluck and 2012 all-GPAC honorable mention outside hitter Danielle Bird. Bird and Mahsem both transferred, while Sandau, Swenson and Fluck all suffered injuries that will keep them out this season.

Bird, who was second on the team in digs last season with 309, moved on to South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Mahsem, who had 176 kills last year for Wesleyan, is now competing at Madison College in Madison, Wisc.