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Wagner volleyball climbs to No. 5 ranking in Class A behind month-long surge

Red Raiders lead Region 5A, sit fifth overall in Class A.

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Parkston's Brielle Bruening tries tipping the ball over the net as Wagner's Shalayne Nagel goes for the block during a match on Oct. 12, 2021 in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

WAGNER — It’s been nearly a month since the Wagner volleyball program was last defeated, a sign that the Red Raiders are approaching top form right on schedule.

Since getting out to a modest 5-3 start, the Red Raiders are on one of the hottest streaks in South Dakota prep volleyball, winning 15 of 16 matches dating back to Sept. 9, which has vaulted the program to the No. 5 ranking in the most recent Class A media poll.

An overall match record of 20-4 also puts Wagner at fifth in the Class A seed point standings and first in Region 5A, just above Mount Vernon/Plankinton (15-5) and Sanborn Central/Woonsocket (20-4), ahead of a home date with WInner on Oct. 19.

A steady evolution has the Red Raiders looking like a different team from the one that opened the season in late August, a change coach Stacey Knebel attributes to the team’s commitment to coming together and playing as a cohesive unit.

“At the beginning, there was hesitation because some of the girls didn’t know each other very well, but now they’ve really started to click,” Knebel said. “We’ve got some very, very competitive girls and I think they’re starting to pick up the others and carry each other which is really good for our team.”

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During the month-long hot streak, Wagner has swept 11 opponents, dropping just four total sets across its 15 victories. The Red Raiders’ lone loss during the past five weeks came to Platte-Geddes, another 20-plus-win program, in the best-of-three sets championship match at the Cavalier Clash tournament on Sept. 18.

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Wagner's Emma Yost goes up for the block attempt on Parkston's Faith Oakley during a match on Oct. 12, 2021 in Parkston. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Not long ago, Knebel felt there were some unknowns surrounding the program and how pieces were going to come together, but the Red Raiders’ run of form recently prompted the team to reevaluate goals set prior to the season and raise their collective expectations.

“Our expectations are higher now that we know what we’re capable of,” Knebel said. “We’ve got our eyes set on the prize, so hopefully we make it to Rapid City (the site of the state volleyball championships) and do well.”

Now that her team has settled in and formed a strong bond, Knebel feels the Red Raiders don’t have a glaring weakness, pointing to an offense with several threatening hitters, strong service, solid blocking and a good defense.

If there’s one area that presents the biggest hurdle for Wagner to overcome as it works toward its goal of making the state tournament, Knebel thinks it will be the mental side of the game as the Red Raiders manage the highs and lows that come with closely-contested volleyball. But she's also stressed the importance of taking each match as it comes, knowing that her team is in a position to be a factor come the postseason.

“Usually a team peaks right around the perfect time,” Knebel said, “and that’s exactly what’s happening to us right now.”

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALLWAGNERPREP SPORTS
Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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