Dakota Wesleyan University's undefeated start is in the rearview mirror and now a tough conference schedule is on the horizon.
The Tiger volleyball team began the season 9-0 and coach Lindsay Wilber credited the offseason work for the start.
"These girls really matured from last year and they really put in a strong offseason," Wilber said. "They worked really hard in the weightroom and kind of set themselves up for hopefully taking a step here this year and we had a great preseason."
The Tigers started the season with nine straight wins, which was the best start in Wilber's five-year coaching tenure. They went 4-0 at the Robert Morris University Invitational and 4-0 at the Corn Palace Classic, with a win over Dakota State sandwiched in between.
"We've just gotten smarter, too, as a team," Wilber added. "I can just trust them a lot more, I feel like, than I have in the past with the teams I've had, just because I know what I am going to get out of them."
Now comes the tough part for DWU, which has no seniors on the roster.
DWU dropped its Great Plains Athletic Conference opener on Tuesday against University of Jamestown at the Corn Palace. After hosting a pair of matches this Saturday at the Corn Palace, the Tigers will get into the grueling GPAC schedule.
"Our schedule was very favorable in the beginning," Wilber said. "We were home a lot. I like where we are going on the road right away. It's a long season and just hopefully we can keep it going and keep it mentally focused."
The conference features six teams either ranked or receiving votes in this week's NAIA top-25 poll.
"It will be interesting to see how we respond in the GPAC," Wilber said. "Those are the ones where we have to start winning some games for people to take us seriously and that's where we are going to get better is winning some GPAC matches."
Wilber said for that to happen, the Tigers need to continue bringing it on defense. DWU is currently 14th in the nation in total digs with 729. Sara Herman has recorded a team-high 193 digs.
"That has to be our focus," Wilber said. "They don't want a ball to hit the floor. So that has to be our emphasis, just because of our lack of size."
Offensively, Rebecca Frick is again the team's top hitter as she's second in the nation in total kills (179).
"She just works so hard in the offseason to get her body in shape," Wilber said. "She is just physically stronger than she was last year and she's just so smart."
Winner native Sydney Fritz ranks second on the team in kills with 105.
"Sydney Fritz took a big step from last year," Wilber said. "She kind of played on the right side last year and didn't play all the time. She's jumping higher and is getting more confidence in her offensive skills."
Setter Bridgett Knobbe engineers the offense and leads the team with 391 assists.