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Dakota Wesleyan volleyball enjoying the 'great' pressure that comes with national top-10 ranking

Since the start of the 2020 season, the Tigers are 23-6 in home matches, including 18-2 over the last two seasons and perfect at the Christen Family Athletic Center this year at 7-0.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Emily Dale hits an attack against Dordt during a college volleyball match on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022 at the Christen Family Athletic Center in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — In the blink of an eye, the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team has 20 wins in 2022.

"It's crazy," DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said. "And it's still kind of weird. But we have a group of girls that play so well for each other."

In past seasons, that was a big accomplishment, occurring in 2019, 2021 and now 2022. But the Tigers (20-4) are a top-10 team in the country, with more they want to accomplish in November and December.

"People like to talk about the ranking, and it's great," Wilber said. "But it's a new pressure. But you can't lose to the Briar Cliffs, the Morningsides, you have to be ready to go and win those matches. And that's why we've gotten to this point. We haven't lost to a team that wasn't in the top-25 and we have won eight times against top-25 opponents this year. The country and the voters really respect that."

The national ranking could go up on Wednesday when the latest NAIA coaches' top-25 poll comes out.

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"Our defense is phenomenal," DWU senior Mackenzie Miller said. "The back row does so much for us and it allows us to get attempts on the balls and (setter) Madeline (Else) is obviously one of the best setters in the GPAC and in the nation right now, so when you put it all together, we've got a good winning formula. All around we're playing really well and we're synchronized."

Since the start of the 2020 season, the Tigers are 23-6 in home matches, including 18-2 over the last two seasons.

"We definitely have a lot more confidence," Miller said. "We know what we need to do in those situations and when there's pressure on the line, we take a step forward, not a step backwards."

This year, the Tigers are enjoying the renovations and new bleachers at the Christen Family Athletic Center, which seats 750, according to DWU Athletic Director Jon Hart. Those bleachers were essentially full for the Tigers' last home match against Dordt, a 3-0 sweep, as they have been for much of the season to date.

"That kind of environment, it's great for our volleyball program and it makes a difference," Wilber said. "It makes DWU a tougher place to play.”

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Dakota Wesleyan's Tya Weideman (13) digs a ball during a college volleyball match against Midland on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022 at the Christen Family Athletic Center in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

The Tigers are back in action against No. 7 Northwestern on Wednesday, Oct. 26 in Orange City, Iowa, which will be the Tigers' final regular-season road match of the season.

In the GPAC standings, the Tigers are in a tie for third place with three matches remaining with Concordia (each at 10-3), with Northwestern in fifth place at two games back. A win over the Red Raiders would go a long way to assuring the Tigers of having a home GPAC tournament quarterfinal match for the second year in a row.

A blocking mentality

In the midst of its wins, the Tigers have had more success blocking at the net. That included 19 total blocks in a home win over then-No. 3 Midland, 14 blocks in a win over then-No. 13 College of Saint Mary, and 10 each in wins over Mount Marty and then-No. 6 Concordia in the last few weeks.

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Wilber said the turning point came in a close win over Dakota State earlier in the year, in which the Trojans won the blocking battle at the net by a 17-3 margin.

"When we got out-blocked as badly as we did, we're like, ‘This is ridiculous, we're better than this,’” Wilber said. “So we've been stressing this, working on it, working on the timing and different things. Since then, it's been a lot, lot better."

Miller said much of the progress with blocking has been from the communication before each play starts.

“Before the play starts, we talk about where our hitters are and trying to get an idea of who they're going to set the ball to,” Miller said. “On our side of the net, we're going to set up Ady Dwight when we can. Other teams have that as well and we try to point out the players that we need to stop and how we're going to do that.”

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Dakota Wesleyan's Emily Dale substitutes out of the match during a college volleyball match on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022 at the Christen Family Athletic Center in Mitchell.
Marcus Traxler / Mitchell Republic

Impact freshman

DWU has done a lot of its damage on the court this season with juniors and seniors. One notable exception to that is Huron High School graduate Emily Dale, who is a freshman for the Tigers.

Dale, a middle blocker, has 97 kills and a .236 hitting percentage that ranks third on the team. She also has 48 total blocks and ranks fifth on the team in points scored with 119.5.

"She's so good," Wilber said. "She's really smart and when you watch her play, it shows up. She gets blocked a few times, even (Friday) against Dordt, but they're a humongous team. They have a double-block on her and she just sort of swiped it off the block and got the kill. ... She has great body control at the net and she's been a really great addition to our team as a freshman."

Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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