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DWU volleyball hopes experience translates to playoffs

Dakota Wesleyan University's Bridgett Knobbe (2) and Kimberly VanBockern (16) protects the net against Presentation College's Olivia Stet on Oct. 10, 2017 at the Christen Family Athletic Center. (Republic file photo)

The Dakota Wesleyan University women’s volleyball team has shown growth in head coach Lindsey Wilber’s four-year tenure, though took a slight step back last fall.

After recording the school’s first winning season in nearly 25 years in 2016, the Tigers went 16-18 overall and 3-12 in the Great Plains Athletic Conference last season. However, all six starters for DWU were either freshmen or sophomores, competing in the toughest conference in the NAIA.

While contending for a GPAC championship is likely a tough ask for a team -- with no seniors on the varsity roster -- projected to finish 11th in the conference in the preseason polls, Wilber believes her team will continue to improve.

“This year we should have a few more wins,” Wilber said. “We have a good returning (core). All of my starters are back from last year and I look for that to be good, having experience on the court as we get going.”

The group of returning starters is headlined by junior outside hitter Rebecca Frick, who had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2017, earning second-team All-GPAC honors. Frick was No. 12 in the nation with 462 kills and placed second on the team with 470 digs.

Frick should once again be the featured player, with the Tigers looking to set her up frequently on the outside for kills and it’s going to be rare to see her come out of games, according to Wilber.

“She’s gonna be our go-to, our terminator,” Wilber said. “She’s a good leader, she works really hard. I always say Becky’s good at everything she does. She’s our main contributor.”

Sara Herman, who was a defensive stalwart at libero, stood out as a freshman last year. At 5-foot-3, Herman is the shortest player on the squad, but she made plays all over the court.

Herman was an All-GPAC honorable mention pick after ranking No. 35 in the country in digs with 610, which cracked the top 20 all-time in school history after just one season.

Classmate Bridgett Knobbe was also a starter in her first season and also earned honorable mention all-conference after dishing out 1,066 assists, which puts her in the top 10 all-time with three seasons of eligibility remaining. Mallory Cooper, Kimberly VanBockern, Sydney Fritz, Emily Brunsing and Freeman native Chelsey Heeg all return as well after playing in all 34 matches.

With seven teams in the GPAC ranked in the top 25 preseason poll, conference play is a grind, but the goal this season for DWU is to make the playoffs. That would require an eighth-place finish, which the Tigers did last season but lost out on the playoffs due to a tiebreaker scenario with Concordia.

“The competition’s so crazy,” Wilber said. “My goal is to make the playoffs, that was our goal last year. Just keep winning, hovering around the .500 mark. That’s good with the conference we’re in.”

Dakota Wesleyan opens the season at 3 p.m. on Friday at the RMU Eagle Invite, against host Robert Morris in Chicago, Illinois.