SIOUX CITY | Ema Altena feels Dordt’s volleyball team is capable of reaching the NAIA Volleyball Championships title match for the second year in a row.
Altena is one of five returning athletes from last year’s 28-8 squad that dropped a five-set thriller to Great Plains Athletic Conference rival Hastings in the title match. Tuesday night, the 6-foot junior outside hitter smacked a match-high 17 kills to pace a hard-hitting attack that enabled the fourth-ranked Defenders to sweep Ottawa 25-22, 25-16, 25-21 to begin Pool D play at the Tyson Events Center.
“Honestly, I feel like the sky is the limit for us,” said Altena. “We’ve been training hard all year. We have people who either were playing on that team last year or were part of that team. We all know what it feels like and that’s where we want to get back to by the end of the season.”
“I feel really excited. We’re playing real high volleyball right now,” added Dordt setter Jamie Gesink. “We have five great hitters and it’s awesome when I get the ball. I can go to any one of them and they’ll put it away for me like Ema (Altena). She’s a great athlete and a great hitter.”
Gesink supplied 36 assists to spark a Dordt offense that received 10 and nine kills, respectively, from Ally Krommendyk and Leah Kamp. Consecutive kills from Altena and 6-foot-6 senior Haley Moss stretched a 23-22 lead as Coach Chad Hanson’s squad closed out the first set.
Dordt (30-6), which will face No. 20 Northwest in Pool D play at 6 o’clock tonight, raced to a 6-0 Game 2 advantage and had a 6-3 lead to start the third set. Yuleika Jiminez, a 5-9 outside hitter with 11 kills for Ottawa (30-11) made things interesting with aggressive hitting as the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference squad pulled within 22-15 in Game 2 and 18-17 in Game 3, but the Defenders maintained control, thanks to strong serving and blocking.
Altena had two of the team’s four ace serves while Krommendyk, a 6-2 middle blocker, provided two solo blocks and three block assists. Gesink and Kamp each recorded seven block assists.
“I really felt we had a good serving focus,” said Hanson. “Our blocking was strong. We were averaging about four blocks per set. That’s going to help us in a lot of different ways. Our passing was superb. We were in system quite a bit and that helps Jamie get the ball to a lot of different hitters.
“The distribution was really good. But I look at the stat sheet and see the attacking errors we had. I’m not worried about it. I’m glad we get to improve on some things from this three-set win which will hopefully prepare us for our match tomorrow.”
Altena and Gesink, a pair of first-team GPAC selections, are returning starters from last year’s squad along with 6-1 junior outside hitter Julia Lindbergh, 5-10 senior libero Summer Jansen and 5-4 junior defensive specialist Aubrey Drake. Jansen, another first-team GPAC pick, had 13 digs, two more than Gesink.
“Dordt’s a really good team,” said Ottawa Coach Melissa Blessington. “They block very well, especially when you’re out of system. So it’s one of those things where you have to make sure you pass well. We lean on Yulieka in a lot of situations. Our middle Kenna Hall does a fantastic job in transition, but we didn’t always have our passing down.”
Hanson had a chance to scout Northwest in Tuesday night’s late match against Missouri Baptist. He feels the Defenders are capable of an undefeated pool record if they remain in focus.
“Ottawa was a very good, athletic team,” said Hanson. “We demonstrated that we need to be more consistent. If we treat a third-seeded team from our pool (Northwest) in a casual and an inconsistent way tomorrow, it’s going to be harder for us.
“Then Thursday, if we treat a second-seeded team (Missouri Baptist) similarly, it’s going to be very difficult. We have to be consistent. We have the capability to play a long week of volleyball, when we’re playing focused and consistent and high level.”