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Wagner volleyball team prepares for first state tournament since 2013

Wagner plays Hill City in the Class A state quarterfinals

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Wagner's Macy Koupal (4) and Kya Kjeldgaard (11) defend the net against Elk Point-Jefferson's Ashley Brewer during a Class A SoDak 16 volleyball match Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 at Irene-Wakonda High School. (Branden Hull / Republic)
Mitchell Republic file photo

WAGNER — After escaping from a 2-0 deficit to Elk Point-Jefferson in the SoDak 16, Wagner volleyball is mentally prepared to make a run at the state tournament beginning Thursday, Nov. 18 at the Summit Arena in Rapid City.

Fighting their way back to win a five-set thriller, Wagner coach Stacey Knebel said the team had changed their focus mentally in order to pull off such a feat.

Now having won 14 of its last 16 matches, the No. 4 seeded Red Raiders (24-6) will take on No. 5 seed Hill City in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament.

“We were ahead in every single set against Elk Point-Jefferson, but there was some hesitation,” Knebel said. “We just weren’t finishing through things and that’s all we worked on this week. Not doubting ourselves, really committing to the ball and understanding how important that’s going to be in the state tournament, because in state, you can’t hesitate whatsoever.”

Wagner currently sits on a five-game winning streak entering the state tournament, but before beating Chamberlain on Oct. 23, the Red Raiders struggled at the Southeast South Dakota Conference tournament losing its first two games. Prior to the SESD tournament, Wagner had won 13 straight and were displaying their dominance beating five teams with a record better than .500.

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“We were on a run earlier and then we lost in the SESD Conference tournament so I was thinking maybe we did bloom too soon,” Knebel said. “Now coming into the postseason, I think these girls are picking it back up and I do feel we’ve peaked at the right time because things are all coming together. We have not skipped a beat. We’ve had great energy all week and our girls are focused.”

Emma Yost, who notched a team-high 20 kills and 23 digs in the SoDak 16 win over Elk Point-Jefferson, leads the team this season in kills with 316 and digs with 436. Kya Kjeldgaard has also reached the 200 mark in kills this season with 212 and leads the teams in hitting percentage at .337. Macy Koupal leads the Red Raiders in assists with 906.

Wagner gears up to face a Hill City team that has also caught fire at the right time of the year, winning 14 of its last 16 matches. The Rangers (26-7) haven’t had a match go five sets this season, despite a coaching change mid-season.

“Hill City had a bump in the road as well, having a new coach coming in, but I think their girls have really come together and you can tell they are having fun on the floor which is huge in volleyball,” Knebel said. “We watched a lot of film on Hill City but I think we’ll be good to go as long as we play our game.

"We have to really run through those balls that we struggled against Elk Point-Jefferson with and just do what our team can do," she said. "We’ve really worked on mental toughness this year and I think that’s what’s gotten us to where we are. This team is so competitive that I think that’s carried us through all the way.”

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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