Mitchell product Mackenzie Miller helps power DWU volleyball at the net
On the court, Miller stands out as one of the Tigers’ most improved players for a second consecutive season. The 5-foot-11 hitter has mixed her ability to play power volleyball with court smarts.
MITCHELL — Experience is paying dividends for Mackenzie Miller and the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team.
Miller, a senior right-side hitter and Mitchell native, and her Tigers are hoping to kick off an even longer NAIA tournament run starting on Saturday night in the Corn Palace. The Tigers (22-7) host Kansas Wesleyan in the NAIA tournament opening round at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Last season, the Tigers made the NAIAs for the first time in 31 years and reached the final site in Sioux City, Iowa, where the Tigers split two pool play matches. (DWU’s two national tournament wins were the first in program history.)
This year, the Tigers are ranked No. 6 in the country, potentially putting them in a position to play into December, with eyes on the Dec. 3 national championship match.
"It's so much fun,” Miller said earlier this season. “Last year was a dream come true and this year is just topping that. We're looking forward to the playoffs and we're just trying to keep that excitement going."
On the court, Miller stands out as one of the Tigers’ most improved players for a second consecutive season. The 5-foot-11 hitter has mixed her ability to play power volleyball with massive swings of her right arm with a knack for understanding where to be on the court.
“She’s a really consistent player,” DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said. “She's strong and she's powerful. She doesn't jump the best, but she's smart and really knows where to put the ball. She makes so many good plays for us.”
Miller has proven to be a worthy running mate to junior standout Ady Dwight, who is among the nation’s leaders in kills (512). In 29 matches, Miller has 287 kills (ranking second on the team) and a .230 hitting percentage, plus 65 total blocks and 57 digs. Since the start of October, she has hit .200 or better in nine of DWU’s last 13 matches and she had a career-best 21 kills in DWU’s five-set win at then-No. 6 Northwestern in the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament on Nov. 5.
“When you have a middle like Ady, they're going to sway that way and that opens things up,” Wilber said. “You can mess that up if you don't know how to play it but she really knows how to handle those openings.”
The depth of hitters is one of the strengths of both teams in Saturday's national tournament match, with KWU posting four hitters with at least 250 kills this season and both the Coyotes and Tigers ranking in the top-20 nationally in kills per set and the top-40 nationally in hitting percentage.
DWU’s Mariah Gloe has 248 kills to her name this year, with sophomore Abby Brunsing picking up 175 kills and 119 kills coming from freshman Emily Dale.
"I'm seeing the court better,” Miller said. “I've been able to see the defense really well and I know where to put the ball. I think we've got a lot of those players on our team, who are really just smart hitters.”
Getting to the NAIA tournament is no longer a new experience for the Tigers, something that Miller and her DWU teammates expect to draw on knowing what to expect about postseason volleyball for Saturday and beyond.
“The experience I've had over the last three years has really helped me develop my skills and made me a better player,” Miller said. “We're playing big matches now but that's what we expect. And we expect to win those matches, too.”