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Dakota Wesleyan's Madeline Else is having a strong junior season, with hopes for a championship homecoming

DWU's Madeline Else is sixth in assists and ninth in assists per set in all of NAIA.

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Dakota Wesleyan University junior setter Madeline Else is among the national leaders for set assists in the NAIA. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Madeline Else is having a stellar season as a junior for the Dakota Wesleyan University team in her setter role.

And one more win Saturday in the opening round of the NAIA national volleyball tournament will give the Holstein, Iowa native a special chance to play in front of her family, friends and previous coaches again.

Else gets other chances to play in northwest Iowa against Great Plains Athletic Conference opponents like Briar Cliff, Dordt or Morningside, but if the Tigers travel to Sioux City again this season, it will be because they are still alive in the NAIA Women’s Volleyball National tournament. Else's hometown is about an hour away from the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City and she said the amount of support she’s received since they’ve become closer to this stage has been special.

“I have a lot of friends and family that have been supporting me for the last three years who haven’t necessarily been able to make a drive to Mitchell on a Wednesday night for a match,” Else said. “I’ve had a lot of support from the community asking what time we’ll play. … From a family aspect, I’m the youngest of three so being a little bit closer to home gives them the opportunity to come watch me which is special to me because family is some of my biggest support.”

Else has emerged as one of the top passers in the country. She’s sixth in all of NAIA in assists with 1,242 and ninth in assists per set (11.09). The junior setter was just named to the all-Great Plains Athletic Conference second-team on Nov. 16. This season, she’s had 30 assists or more in 29 of her 32 matches played, including six matches of 50-plus and a career-high 55 assists on Sept. 3 against Central Methodist (Mo.).

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“The season that we’re having is just unbelievable for me,” Else said. “I’m coming from a small town in Iowa, where we didn’t have the fame that we’re necessarily getting this year. We’re getting so much community support and recognition to the program that we’ve put so much time and effort towards. For Jadie DeLange and the rest of the juniors, we’ve been working for this for three years now, so it’s really nice seeing how much everything has paid off.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Madeline Else set passes the ball to teammate Ady Dwight during the first round of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament against Northwestern on Saturday, November 5, 2021 at the Christen Family Athletic Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Else accredits a huge portion of her success over the years to the team’s chemistry and the way they share the ball as a unit. In her freshman season in 2019, Dakota Wesleyan had 1,208 assists on the season. With at least one more game scheduled to be played, DWU is on pace to exceed their assist total from 2019 by nearly 200.

“I’ve just been trusting my hitters a lot more and being able to consistently have good passing has helped me so much,” Else said. “This is probably one of the best passing years we’ve had. Their passing helps me get my hitters open and helps me stay more in system.”

Else has been playing alongside right side hitter Mackenzie Miller, defensive specialist Dannielle Burns and outside hitters Jadie DeLange and Mariah Gloe since her freshman year. Else said the natural chemistry and relationships off the court have fueled this connection on the court.

“After you play with people for three years, you know their tendencies and you know the way they like things to be set,” Else said. “I have more trust in them because I know if I get them the right set at the right time, I know they’ll put it away. ... You can’t just break bonds like that, especially when we all have been consistently playing together."

This season, Else has helped five of her teammates reach 100 kills or more. Her roommate, Ady Dwight, is the team's leader in kills and said not only does Else make few mistakes, but she also makes the game so much easier for everyone on the court.

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“She’s really an important aspect to our team,” Dwight said. “She’s just a really good teammate and a leader on and off the court and we sort of rely on her to make those key plays for us. She knows what’s best for the team and always makes the right decisions and I look up to her in that aspect."

DeLange has 151 kills this season, along with Abigail Brunsing at 201, Miller at 289 and Gloe at 293. Dwight, the 13th-ranked player in all of NAIA in kills and kills per set, has 442 kills. Ahead of their opening-round matchup against Saint Xavier, DWU coach Lindsay Wilber said she’s proud of the way Else handles her responsibilities and trusts in so many hitters on the team.

“Madeline is having such a great season and your setter is essential like your quarterback,” Wilber said. “They’re the ones that need to be a good leader and take charge. They have a lot of responsibility and I’m thankful that Madeline takes those responsibilities seriously and does a really good job. She does a good job of trusting her hitters and even if they make a mistake, she’ll go back to them again. She keeps us as a good balanced attack.”

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Dakota Wesleyan University's Madeline Else set passes the ball to teammate Ady Dwight during the first round of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament against Northwestern on Saturday, November 5, 2021 at the Christen Family Athletic Center. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

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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