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Continuity is key for DWU volleyball's 'big goals' ahead of 2022 season

After going 25-10, making it to the round of 16 in the NAIA national tournament and a Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament semifinal appearance a season ago, the Tigers want to improve on that mark.

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Dakota Wesleyan's Tya Weideman, right, makes a pass as teammate Dannielle Burns looks on during 2021 match against Dakota State University at the Christen Family Athletic Center.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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MITCHELL — Dakota Wesleyan volleyball has its eyes set on lofty goals heading into the 2022 season.

After going 25-10, making it to the last 16 in the NAIA national tournament and a Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament semifinal appearance a season ago, the Tigers want to improve on that mark.

The Tigers come into the season as the 15th-ranked team in the country, marking the first time DWU has been ranked in the preseason.

“This is new territory,” coach Lindsay Wilber said of the preseason ranking after the team’s intrasquad scrimmage Monday. “Usually we’ve been the ones climbing up and now we’re here, so we have to stay there.”

That preseason ranking is different, according to Wilber, because it’s uncharted territory for the Tigers. But given most of the team from last year is returning, the high ranking is logical.

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Ady Dwight, Mariah Gloe, Mackenzie Miller and Abigail Brunsing — who were the four leaders in kills last season for the Tigers — are all back, as well as starting setter Madeline Else and starting libero Hanna Reiff.

Dwight led the team last season with 473 kills, earning herself a spot on the all-GPAC first team and NAIA All-American first team. Reiff paced the Tigers with 730 digs at the libero spot on her way to second-team GPAC honors. Else and Gloe were also tabbed on the GPAC all-conference team last year after Else recorded 1,355 assists and Gloe racked up 319 kills.

“We’ve practiced for about two weeks and we haven’t had a lot of ironing out things when you have a veteran group coming back,” Wilber said of the continuity on the team. “These guys were ready to play a week ago.”

DWU will get to see just how ready it is when it heads down to West Palm Beach, Florida, for the Chick-fil-A Classic tournament to start its season. The Tigers have four matches in Florida — opening with matches against Georgetown (Ky.) and Columbia International (Mo.) on Thursday, Aug. 18 — plus a ranked matchup against No. 20 Columbia (Mo.) for the final contest on Friday, Aug. 19.

However, ranked matches aren’t anything new for DWU. The GPAC has seven teams ranked in the top-25, with four of them ranked above DWU, including the No. 2 team in the nation, Jamestown. That level of competition is something that will prepare the Tigers for the NAIA tournament should they make it back.

“It helps us tremendously,” Dwight said of playing in the GPAC. “When we play a game, every single time it’s like ‘OK, but you’re playing somebody better than you.’ … It’s always good competition.”

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The Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team, including Ady Dwight (right), celebrates a five-set victory over Northwestern to win the first round of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2021 at the Christen Family Athletic Center.
Mitchell Republic file photo

DWU is firmly in that mix of the top teams in arguably the nation’s top conference, and with the core nucleus of the team coming back, the Tigers are poised to make some noise.

“We’re just one huge family and we know how to play ball together,” Dwight said of the team. “We know how to communicate on the court.”

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With the expectations as high as they’ve ever been for the Tigers, the upcoming season looks to be one of the more memorable ones in program history. Almost the entire lineup is back, the stiff competition of the GPAC will come in handy when playing foes from outside the conference and the confidence is evident from the team.

With athleticism and balance, two things Wilber noted the team excels at this season, DWU is looking at the upcoming season as an opportunity to make a run.

“We want to get back there again in our conference tournament,” Wilber said. “Our goal is to make the Elite Eight this year, so we have big goals.”

Zech Lambert is a sports reporter for the Mitchell Republic. He graduated from Penn State University in May 2022 and began at the Mitchell Republic in July 2022. He can be reached at zlambert@mitchellrepublic.com or on Twitter @Zech_Lambert.
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