New faces will not slow down the progression of the Dakota Wesleyan University volleyball team this fall.

That is how head coach Lindsay Wilber feels after reaching the 20-win plateau in 2019, but losing six key contributors from the squad, including All-American outside hitter Rebecca Frick. She also feels the Tigers are in position to qualify for the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament after narrowly missing out two years in a row.

Armed with what Wilber calls the most athletic team she has assembled during her time at DWU, the GPAC tournament is once again the goal when it opens the season in a triangular against Valley City State and Mayville State on Saturday in Valley City, North Dakota.

“(The GPAC tournament) is always right there,” Wilber said. “... That’s always our next step and the girls know that. This year is going to be odd with who is playing this week and next because of COVID. It’s going to be interesting.”

DWU had four players play in all 117 sets a season ago, but only defensive specialist Danielle Burns returns this season. Burns finished third on the team with 360 digs as a freshman, behind then-seniors Rebecca Frick and Mallory Cooper.

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Of course, replacing Frick is the big challenge after she finished her college career second on the school’s all-time list in kills (1,750) and digs (1,465). Mariah Gloe, who appeared in 98 sets last season as a freshman, will step into the starting lineup full-time after notching 90 kills last year.

Jadie DeLange is in her second year with the program after transferring from Division II Black Hills State University, and posted 224 kills in 99 sets last season, while Chaydon Metzger and Mitchell native Mackenzie Miller will battle for the starting job at right-side hitter.

Setter Bridgett Knobbe, who placed third on the DWU all-time list in assists (3,289), must also be replaced and that will be tasked to sophomore Madeline Else. Northern State transfer Hanna Reiff is also expected to play a significant role as a defensive specialist.

A pair of 6-foot freshmen step into the starting lineup at middle blocker in Ady Dwight and McKenzie Buisker. Dwight, a Langford native, was praised by Wilber as the most athletic player she has ever coached.

“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised how they’ve meshed together already,” Wilber said. “It’s so fun to watch. We only have two seniors on the team and one junior, so we’re super young, but super athletic. It’s going to be fun to watch their progression, because they’ll get better every match.”

If the Tigers are hoping to reach the GPAC tournament for the first time in school history, they will have to avoid skids like the three-game losing streak to end 2019 and grab wins in five-set matches. DWU dropped three five-set matches last season, which Wilber pointed to as a contributing factor for missing the postseason.

“We should have been in the tournament last year,” Wilber said. “It’s very realistic.”