Dakota Wesleyan volleyball tops Saint Xavier, notches first NAIA tourney win in program history

Dakota Wesleyan improves to 24-9 on the season and advances to final 24-team tournament

The Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team celebrates their match point to defeat Saint Xavier University (Ill.) and advance past the first round of the NAIA National Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 20 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

History was made at the Corn Palace Saturday night as the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team outdueled Saint Xavier (Ill.) in the opening round of the NAIA tournament.

The Tigers, who hadn’t made the NAIA tournament since 1990, seized their first win in the tournament, beating the Cougars in four sets. Set scores were 25-23, 19-25, 25-21 and 25-22.

“I’m so proud of them, this is awesome,” DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said. “In that fourth set, it felt like the momentum was shifting but we did what we needed to do to finish this one out.”

The Tigers, who were ranked No. 13 in the country at the end of the regular season, will now await their pool play assignment for Sioux City, Iowa, starting Nov. 30. The Tigers will have two guaranteed matches and will find out their pool play assignment on Sunday or Monday.


Dakota Wesleyan University's Dannielle Burns hugs Dakota Wesleyan University head coach Lindsay Wilber, left, while Abigail Brunsing (5) and Madeline Else, right, hug following the Tigers 3-1 win over Saint Xavier University (Ill.) in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament on Saturday, Nov. 20 at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

DWU was fighting an uphill battle in nearly every set, but the team powered through when it counted most. The Tigers were down 10-5 in the first set and following Wilber’s second timeout, they were down 17-13. Wilber said the team needed to pick up the pace and that the first set was too important to lose.

“We needed to get going,” Wilber said. “We knew what they were going to bring to us. Every set we were in a hole, but we battled back. That first set is crucial to battle back into and finish.”

From that point on, DWU went on to tie the set at 18 and capped a 12-6 to run to claim the first set. The momentum however did not carry over as the Tigers found themselves in a 11-6 disadvantage in the second set. Saint Xavier extended that lead to 18-9 and went on to win the second set 25-19.

GALLERY: DWU volleyball teams defeats Saint Xavier University 3-1 to advance to the second round of the NAIA national tournament

In the third set, the game was tied at 16 before DWU went on a 9-5 run to end a set that Saint Xavier’s coach Bob Heersema felt got away from the Cougars.

“The third set just kind of got away from us,” Heersema said. “The passing started to break down and they kept managing to keep the ball alive. They put a lot of pressure on the outsides. They have a great block and they did an awesome job of digging balls.”

The Cougars hit .085 in the third set and the Tigers were able to keep SXU in check in the fourth set as well.


Dakota Wesleyan began the fourth set in a 3-0 deficit, but quickly tied the score at eight and took a 12-9 lead before a Saint Xavier timeout. DWU led by a score of 21-14 before finally stifling a SXU 7-1 rally and winning the fourth set, 25-22.

“This team is really tough,” Wilber said. “We have some tough kids on this team that don’t want to lose and once you put in the whole season of what we’ve done, we didn’t want to go home tonight. We wanted to go to Sioux City.”

Junior setter Madeline Else distributed the ball well, tallying a total of 41 assists. Ady Dwight had 10 kills and two digs while Mariah Gloe had 10 kills and seven digs. Mackenzie Miller and Jadie DeLange had nine kills a piece while Abigail Brunsing had six kills. Hanna Reiff added a match-high 29 digs and Callie Slagter added 12 digs.

For Saint Xavier, senior Nadia Atton had a match-high 21 kills and 10 digs. Chloe Memenga had 14 kills and five digs while Jessica Belseth had eight kills and nine digs. Kaleigh Ritter led the team in digs with 16.

The Tigers will have some time to prepare for the national final site. The lone DWU senior, DeLange said the team is ecstatic about advancing in the playoffs.

“We’re all so thrilled right now for the opportunity to go to Sioux City,” DeLange said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. I’m so incredibly proud of this team and this is honestly a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to go to nationals since I transferred here to DWU and no better year than my senior year.”

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 and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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