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Dakota Wesleyan volleyball clicking ahead of NAIA Championship pool play

DWU enters NAIA Championship pool play with a record of 24-9.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Ady Dwight (middle), Mackenzie Miller (right) and Abigail Brunsing (left) await a serve during the first round of the NAIA National Tournament against Saint Xavier University on Saturday, November 20, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
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The 2021 Dakota Wesleyan volleyball team has already made its mark in the history books, winning its first ever NAIA Women’s Volleyball Championship match in the opening-round against Saint Xavier (Ill.).

Now, as they approach their first opportunity to experience the tournament's pool play, the Tigers are not only focused, but enthusiastic about the moment that awaits them.

“We’re really excited for this new experience for us,” DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said. “We’re going to take in every moment of it and we’re excited to take in the feel and atmosphere of the national tournament.”

Dakota Wesleyan (24-9) is one of 24 teams making its way to the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Out of eight pools, DWU has been placed in Pool D where they will compete against two teams out of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Park University (Missouri) and Grand View University (Iowa). In 2019, both Park and Grand View made it past pool play. Grand View lost in the opening round of the championship bracket while Park lost a five-set match in the quarterfinals.

The eight pool winners will advance to the championship bracket beginning Dec. 2, which is then played out until there’s a national champion crowned on Dec. 4. Even though the Tigers are the most inexperienced team of the three, Wilber said the team’s confidence is high and the game plan in place will deem them to be successful.

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“We just need to keep playing the way we’ve been playing and that’s having a balanced attack for us and serving aggressively,” Wilber said. “Both those teams, Grand View and Park,] have some really solid players so we’ll key on some of them sort of how we did against Saint Xavier, use them in serve receive and do our best.”

The balanced attack that led the Tigers past Saint Xavier in four sets featured four players with at least nine kills. Ady Dwight and Mariah Gloe each had 10 while Mackenzie Miller and the lone senior Jadie DeLange had nine apiece.

Junior setter Madeline Else, who is fifth in all of NAIA with 1,283 assists, helped the Tigers to the win in the opening-round of the tournament with 41 assists. While she credited the team’s chemistry as “amazing” at the right time of the year, Dwight said the team still has another level it can leap, too.

“I think if the team is playing the best that we can, then our opportunities are endless,” Dwight said. “We can go out and beat anyone we want to beat if we’re playing as well as we have been. In that last win, we all just worked really hard as a team and everyone did their part. That’s the biggest reason why we got that win but I still don’t think we’ve played our best volleyball yet.”

Dwight ranks 12th in the NAIA in kills with 452 and sits at 16th in kills per set at 3.90. Dwight has often seen double or triple blocks, but the production and help from her teammates has made her quite the distraction.

Offensively, the Tigers average 13.21 kills per set with a .210 hitting percentage. Gloe, Miller, DeLange and Abigail Brunsing all have 160 kills or more this season. Wilber said that she knows teams will want to limit Dwight’s impact, but if they pass the ball well, they’ll be unpredictable and that’s their advantage.

“We need to stay balanced just so blockers can’t key on one person,” Wilber said. “They have to be ready to move and our passing helps with that too. If we pass well, then we’ll have more than one option.”

Defensively, DWU averages 18.22 digs per set along with 2.17 blocks per set. Dwight, lead blocker for the Tigers at 126 total blocks, said they take pride in its defense and it’s the best aspect of their game.

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Madeline Else (8) and Mariah Gloe (12) jump to block Saint Xavier University's Chloe Memenga kill attempt during the first round of the NAIA National Tournament on Saturday, November 20, 2021 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

They’re led by all-Great Plains Athletic Conference second-team Hanna Reiff, who has helped them to 16 straight-set wins this season. Reiff is ninth in all of NAIA in digs with 685 and 11th in digs per set at 5.91.

Even though Reiff headlines this category for DWU, she also has help alongside her in Gloe and Else who both have over 300 digs this season. Other defensive specialists Tya Weideman, Dannielle Burns and Callie Slagter each have more than 100 digs this year and Wilber believes the defense they played in their last match will continue on.

“We played really well defensively against Saint Xavier and that’s what you do to teams with good defense, you can tire them out,” Wilber said. “We’ll just keep focusing on that and our passing. When we play defense and have more digs than the other team, we win every single one of those matches.”

In every win this season, Dakota Wesleyan has had more digs than their opponent. In each of their nine losses, the Tigers have only had more digs than their opponent once.

DWU will face the Grand View Vikings (25-13) at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but will have the opportunity to watch Grand View take on Park at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Tigers will face Park (30-2) at 1 p.m.

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Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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