BURKE -- Taylee Indahl will tell you she loves volleyball, but it’d be apparent even if she was mute.
It’s the sport that brought her into the gym before she could walk, and now has a magnetic pull year-round. Even as a standout golfer, Indahl’s heart belongs to volleyball. It’s always been that way, and likely will continue to be.
Her first word was ‘ball,’ maybe because her mother and coach, Billie Jo, remembers bringing her to practice and setting her car seat in the stands. When she was in elementary school, Taylee became Burke’s first ball girl and spent hours hitting a volleyball against the wall during practice -- watching and learning as each senior class passed.
By the seventh grade, Indahl was playing on varsity. She started the next year, beginning a historic journey.
“She’d been in the gym all the time when she was little,” Billie Jo said. “Coming in seventh grade, she knew a lot about it from being around it, watching me coach and the other girls. I knew very young she’d be very special. Maybe something our school hadn’t really had before.”
If this were a carnival, Billie Jo’s prediction would’ve won her a top-shelf prize. The outside hitter broke numerous school records, culminating in 606 kills, 427 digs, 61 aces and 53 blocks and being named The Daily Republic’s player of the year as a senior this year.
The Daily Republic volleyball player of the year has been selected by the newspaper's sports staff, and conducted via a point-based voting system that awards five points to the top player, four points to the second player on the ballot and so on. Indahl was unanimously voted No. 1 in the voting and tallied 20 points. She’s the first volleyball player from Burke to receive the honor.
Other players receiving consideration were Winner’s Morgan Hammerbeck, Ethan’s Jessica Bartscher, Cameryn Logan, Jada Plastow, McCook Central/Montrose’s Jacy Pulse and Wagner’s Abby Brunsing.
It was a season of resiliency and being able to -- literally -- weather a storm after an EF-1 tornado hit Burke in August and left the volleyball team without a gym. The Cougars made a 40-mile round trip to Bonesteel everyday to practice.
They used it as time for team bonding and extra preparation, guiding them to a program-best fourth-place finish at the Class B state tournament.
“Our team, having to go through the tornado to start the year, no other team had to go through that, no other team had to go without a gym,” Taylee said. “... Everyday we were like, ‘We’re lucky to be here, we’re lucky to have this gym and opportunity to better ourselves to make this the best season we’ve ever had before.’ ”
For as much as Taylee loves volleyball, even she has to “leave the room because we talk about volleyball too much.” The volleyball chatter is constant between she, Billie Jo, her younger sister (Adisyn, a freshman on the team) and father (David).
“We talk a lot,” Adisyn said. “After games, we try to be nice to each other. Not say what we did bad, but we talk a lot about it.”
They break down games and offer different perspectives on what happened. It’s advantageous, and is a more “heartwarming” experience for Taylee than overkill.
And even though Billie Jo tries to separate being a coach and parent, her pride seeps through when talking about the “special” experience. She’s more of a proud-mother than coach when talking about Taylee’s growth and achievements.
“When she was younger, she was a little harder on herself and showed it on her face and the emotion a little more,” she said. “As she would grow and develop, owning it and becoming into her own person and not being quite as hard on herself. … (It’s) been a lot of fun watching her grow and develop into the volleyball player she’s always wanted to be.”
While some describe Taylee as quiet, one of her more notable memories is their friendly banter during matches.
“On the court every game, I want to know where do I hit, where do I block. I’m always like, ‘Mom, mom. Oh, she’s deaf. She can’t hear me ever,’ ” Taylee jokingly said. “My teammates always say, ‘I’m going to miss you saying that. I’m going to miss you just complaining to your mom sometimes.’ ”
The senior will have one more season to complain when golf begins. She’ll have a chance to repeat as the Class B champion and be the second Indahl (Billie Jo) to win as a senior.
When Taylee started high school, she had a goal: Make four straight state tournaments. It was lofty for a team with no prior appearances. The Cougars fell short her freshman year, but it lit a fire that propelled the Cougars to three straight appearances.
Taylee isn’t boisterous or cocky, though even she sees the magnitude of Burke’s past three seasons.
“Being a small town, it’s not really normal for us to make it to the state tournament three times in a row,” she said. “Especially making history my sophomore year.”
She was its go-to hitter, but oftentimes reminds everyone of the work of her teammates. Take one look, though, and her numbers pop out quicker than one of her signature kills.
Billie Jo marveled at Taylee’s 1,000 career kills before she more than doubled the output. She finished as Burke’s all-time leader in career kills (2,123), digs (1,642), aces (254) and receptions (1,426). Her 28 kills in a single match is also a school record.
It’s been a career filled with numerous all-conference honors, being a three-time all-state-tournament and all-state (first team in 2018 and 2019) selection. She was also named to the Under Armour All-American all-region team in 2019.
“Definitely it’s not just me -- it’s my team that helps me,” Taylee said. “... I definitely work hard at what I do. I do offseason and summer work. During the season, I’m always in the gym working on things that I need to work on to better my team.”
It’s partly due to her perfectionist attitude in everything. When she hits a bad shot on the golf course, she’ll want to hit a bucket of balls to fix it. And in the classroom, it’s helped her become academic all-state and a member of the National Honor Society.
She has the physical gifts, too, despite Billie Jo joking she thought Taylee would be taller than her 5-foot-9 stature. Still, she honed her skills by making volleyball a year-round sport with the Corn Palace Area Club the past two years, making a 1.5-hour trip to Mitchell twice a week.
“It doesn’t bother me at all. I love playing volleyball,” she said.
Taylee doesn’t jump out of the gym, but her vision and anticipation, paired with quickness and a fast arm swing make for a deadly combination.
“She’s quick off the ground,” Dakota Wesleyan University and CPAC coach Lindsay Wilber said. “She has a really quick arm swing and a quick wrist snap. A lot of times she hits that ball before the blockers are even ready.”
Between her sophomore and junior year, Taylee knew she wanted to play volleyball rather than golf in college. Even as a state champion golfer -- and second place in 2018 -- she likes the team aspect of volleyball, which comes with less individual pressure.
She made her intentions clear, committing to play volleyball at DWU next season. She never garnered more than interest from Mount Marty for golf, as a result. The Tigers have also expressed interest in Taylee playing golf, though she’s content with this season being her last on the green.
“I think because golf is more of an individual sport, more mental,” she said. “It’s more pressure and I don’t really like a lot of individual pressure. I like the more team feeling. You get more team memories from that -- you play as a team, you win as a team.”
With DWU, Taylee keeps the “smaller feel” while staying closer to home compared to Dakota State, University of Nebraska Kearney, Dordt and Morningside. Prior relationships with players and Wilber played a factor, as well.
She also fits into Wilber’s preferred type of recruit as a six-rotation outside who can impact the game in a multitude of ways.
“I expect her to do the exact same thing for us,” Wilber said. “I like six-rotation outsides that play all the way around and are good at passing and defense, as well as being consistent in the front row.”
Taylee will major in elementary education, showing another influence Burke’s second-grade teacher Billie Jo had.
On the court, she’ll get to continue being part of a team doing the things she loves and possibly set new marks.
“I get to be in a gym with girls I love being around,” Taylee said. “They’re my best friends. I get to spend time with them everyday and make lots of memories that I can share with them in later years. Make memories and make history.”
Here’s a look at other players who received consideration, with point totals in parentheses:
Morgan Hammerbeck, Winner (15): Hammerbeck hit .340 on the attack for the Warriors and posted 357 kills during the 26-4 season prior to the Class A state tournament. She added 246 digs and 41 aces for Winner, helping Winner return to the state tournament. Hammerbeck will play basketball at Black Hills State University.
Jacy Pulse, McCook Central/Montrose (12): Pulse, a 5-foot-7 senior outside hitter, had 37 aces, 232 kills and a team-best 330 digs for MCM, proving to be a six-position player for the Fighting Cougars in their Class A state tournament run. Pulse will compete in track at the University of South Dakota.
Jessica Bartscher, Ethan (7): Bartscher, a 5-foot-5 senior setter for the Rustlers, helped Ethan back to the state tournament for a second straight year, and posted one of the top seasons for a setter in South Dakota. She had 937 assists and committed just 24 errors in more than 2,600 attempts. She also added 28 aces, 233 digs and 71 kills.
Jada Plastow, Ethan (3): Plastow posted a big senior season for Ethan, logging 409 kills prior to the state tournament and a hitting percentage of .272. She also had 51 aces, a 94.2 serving percentage, and 311 digs.
Cameryn Logan, Ethan (2): Logan finished the season with 381 kills, 318 digs, 68 aces and 56 blocks for the Rustlers. The junior helped the Rustlers finish seventh at the Class B state tournament.
Abby Brunsing, Wagner (1): Brunsing, a junior for the Red Raiders, hit .328 on the attack this season, including 419 kills and a kill percentage of 41.4 percent. She also served at a 94.3 percent clip, had 30 aces, 30 blocks and 354 digs for Wagner, which was 21-9 on the season.
Previous award winners: 2001 — Marcy Jacobsen, Mitchell; 2002 (winter) — Chelaine Knudsen, Andes Central; 2002 (fall) — Chelsey Miller, Mitchell; (*Note: 2002 season switch) 2003 — Katrina Brooks, Andes Central; 2004 — Gina Baldwin, Mitchell; 2005 — Kelli Fiegen, Parkston; 2006 — Jena Doom, Wagner; 2007 — Kelli Fiegen, Parkston; 2008 — Keaya Weber, Wagner; 2009 — Jilanne Doom, Wagner; 2010 — Charlee Nelson, Mitchell; 2011 — Dana Misiaszek, Mitchell; 2012 — Taylin Alm, Mitchell; 2013 — Anna Flitner, Lyman; 2014 — Makaela Karst, Mount Vernon/Plankinton; 2015 — Makaela Karst, Mount Vernon/Plankinton; 2016 — Sierra Mesman, Bon Homme; 2017 — Mackenzie Miller, Mitchell; 2018 — Chelsea Brewster, Mitchell; 2019 -- Taylee Indahl, Burke.