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Dakota Wesleyan volleyball is 'all business' for return trip to NAIA national tourney

The Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team said the goals are simple for their time in Sioux City, Iowa this week for the NAIA national volleyball final site tournament, where the final 24 teams will play their way down over the next week to a national champion on Dec. 6 at the Tyson Events Center.

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Dakota Wesleyan's bench celebrates a point against Dakota State during an NAIA volleyball match on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, at Christen Family Athletic Center.
Zech Lambert / Mitchell Republic
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SIOUX CITY, Iowa — They’re all business.

The Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team said the goals are simple for their time in Sioux City, Iowa, this week for the NAIA national volleyball final site tournament, where the final 24 teams will play their way down over the next week to a national champion on Dec. 6 at the Tyson Events Center.

Those goals: Win both pool play matches. Advance to the national quarterfinals. Prove they are one of the nation’s best teams.

“This is the journey,” DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said. “We’re not going into this tournament as an unknown, with any nervousness. It’s like, ‘Let’s go. This is a business trip and let’s go and make some waves and play like we can.’”

The 2021 trip to the NAIA tournament was DWU’s first in 31 years and DWU won two matches, one at the Corn Palace and another in pool play in Sioux City. But in the three-team, pool-play format that the NAIA uses in Sioux City, teams essentially have to win both matches to advance to the final bracket and the national quarterfinals. DWU swept Grand View (Iowa) but was swept by Park (Mo.) in the pool play finale, allowing the Pirates to move on to the bracket and eventually the national championship, where they were bested by Missouri Baptist.

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As a South Dakota native, Hanna Reiff said she’s grateful that she has been a part of the Tigers’ turnaround as a program.

That might have been a tournament where DWU was an unknown, as Wilber said. This time, they’re ranked No. 6 in the country and playing in the NAIA’s best conference, meaning it’s not likely they’re sneaking up on anyone.

“I think we’re going to be a little more prepared,” the Tigers’ Hanna Reiff said. “Last year was new and this time, we can know what to expect. We have a mission and we’re there to do something, get to the Elite Eight.”

The Tigers got in their opening practices in Sioux City on Tuesday and will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday night against Southern Oregon. They have an off day before they will face No. 10 MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) in the decisive final pool play match at 7 p.m. Friday. The pool is one of two at the NAIA tournament that has a pair of top-10 teams in it, with DWU ranking No. 6 in the final rankings at MNU (29-1) finishing at No. 10. Southern Oregon (22-10) wasn’t ranked but received votes in the final poll.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Abby Brunsing hits around the defense of Park University's Noura Meawad during a match in pool play of the NAIA National Tournament on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City.
Mitchell Republic file photo

In pool play, DWU will meet up with two strong blocking teams. MNU ranks No. 7 in the country in blocks per set (2.45), while SOU is 11th in the land in that stat. The Pioneers from Olathe, Kansas, also rank in the top-25 nationally in hitting percentage. They also have one of the gaudiest records in the nation after starting the season with 25 consecutive wins, with only one loss on the year, which came to Park on the road in five sets on Nov. 1.

They have four hitters with at least 275 kills or more, led by Mikayla Johnson’s .344 hitting percentage and 286 kills. Hitter Lucie Maceckova, setter Katrina Davis and libero Savannah Crossland each have had stints this year as national players of the week.

Southern Oregon is one of the nation’s top blocking teams, averaging nearly 2.4 per set, which ranks 11th in the country, led by Sadie Byrd, who has 138 blocks on the season. Hailey Van Well is the Raiders’ top hitter with 343 kills, while Byrd and Carol Melo each have hit .255 or better this season.

This time in Sioux City, DWU wants to make sure there’s “no what-ifs,” senior Mackenzie Miller said.

“Last year, we figured out we were good,” Miller said. “This time, we want to go win, we want to get things done. Win those first two pool plays, make the Elite Eight and go from there.”

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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