Blue-clad 'Tiger Mommas' celebrate Dakota Wesleyan success at national tournament
The Tigers ended their season with 25 wins, the fourth-most wins in program history
It was a history-making season for the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team.
And all along the way, there was plenty of blue-haired support in the stands.
For the second half of the season, DWU volleyball team had parents and supporters wearing blue-colored wigs in the stands, which helped provide good energy in a 25-win season and a trip to the NAIA tournament in Sioux City, where the Tigers were among the last 16 teams standing. DWU concluded its season on Wednesday with its loss to Park University in the pool play finale at the NAIA tournament in three sets.
Midway through the season, one of the player’s mothers brought blue-colored wigs for other mothers to wear as they cheer on their daughters. Once the wigs became a symbol of good fortune, the mothers started wearing them every game and have called themselves the “Tiger Mommas” ever since.
“We just started wearing them for good luck,” said Laura Miller, the mother of right-side junior hitter Mackenzie Miller. “It’s been absolutely awesome seeing the girls go out and play so hard this season. The support from DWU and the community to these players has been phenomenal and we couldn’t be prouder.”
Out of the 19 active players on the roster, only six of the players went to high school and grew up outside of South Dakota. Jadie DeLange, a Monument, Colorado, native, grew up nearly 650 miles away. Her mother, Marchell DeLange, made the drive to Sioux City to watch what might have been her daughter’s final match.
“We made the trip in two nights, (on the first night) we stayed in Platte and then arrived in Iowa on Tuesday afternoon,” DeLange said. “It was great to see. They broke so many school records this year and even when some of them weren’t feeling the greatest, they pulled together as a team and I think that was their biggest accomplishment.”
The season was full of accomplishments, including the first national tournament appearance since 1990, the first home Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament match winning in five sets over Northwestern, and 25 wins, which is the fourth-most in a season in DWU history. The four-set win for DWU over Saint Xavier on Nov. 20 at the Corn Palace was the first national tournament win in school history.
A rigorous GPAC schedule proves helpful
The Tigers competed in perhaps the toughest conferences in all of NAIA this season, the Great Plains Athletic Conference. Seven teams — Jamestown, College of Saint Mary, Midland, Northwestern, Concordia and Dordt — including Dakota Wesleyan all made the trip to Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa, for the national tournament.
The GPAC brought the highest numbers of qualifiers to the field for the seventh year in a row. Each GPAC qualifier advanced past the opening round of the tournament and three of them have advanced to the final eight-team bracket entering Thursday's quarterfinals.
DWU played each of the seven GPAC qualifiers at least once throughout the year and ended with a record of 4-6 against those teams. Four of the losses came to College of Saint Mary and Jamestown, who both rank in the top-5 nationally and have a combined overall record of 61-4.
Dakota Wesleyan finished the year with an overall GPAC record of 10-6 and Ady Dwight said the competition within the conference only made them more competitive and have helped them reach this point in the season.
“I think the GPAC is the best conference because you don’t even know what you’re going to get because it's so competitive,” she said. “You could play one team and beat them in three sets, but the next time, you’ll go to five. … The GPAC competitiveness is different from what you see in other conferences and the drive you see for the sport. It was a great preparation for us.”
Taking a glimpse into next season
DWU had the fortune of only having one senior on the roster this season in Jadie DeLange. DeLange, an outside hitter who’s played three seasons for the Tigers, finished her senior year with 171 kills, 80 digs and 34 total blocks.
She had eight matches this season with at least nine kills or more, including 10 kills on senior night against Mount Marty and nine kills in the opening-round NAIA National tournament win over Saint Xavier (Ill.).
DeLange will have to make a decision to accept her option of playing a fifth year of volleyball and staying with DWU or graduating and moving forward with her elementary education degree.
“In regards to my fifth year, it’s still up in the open,” DeLange said. “For three years now, I’ve been saying I’ll finish volleyball and then go teach somewhere. … It’s still something that’s very new in my head. I’ve thought about it a lot, because I could come back and we could make a run again and it would be incredible. It’s a great thing to think about, but I’m putting a lot of thought into it."