SIOUX CITY | Seniors such as energetic libero Summer Jansen and the tallest hitter of the NAIA Volleyball National Championships, 6-foot-6 right side Haley Moss, will be difficult to replace.
Still, as far as two-time national runner-up Dordt is concerned, the cupboard is far from bare. Seven underclassmen, four of whom were part of the 2016 team, will have their goals pointed to celebrating when the confetti comes falling down from the rafters of the Tyson Events Center a year from now.
“We still have a lot of young people on our team and some great recruits, so we’re really excited about next year,” said Dordt junior middle hitter Leah Kamp. “We’re definitely losing some key players, but I think our junior class is a big class for us. We’ve all been playing together for three years so to finish that out in a fourth year is going to be awesome.”
Don’t sell the two other Northwest Iowa Great Plains Athletic Conference entries which reached Friday’s Round of 16 short. Fifth-ranked Northwestern didn’t have a senior on its roster and had only one junior in its rotation. Host team Morningside returns a strong cast with hopes of continued growth.
Shortly after addressing his team following Saturday night’s four-game loss to Lindsey Wilson, Dordt Coach Chad Hanson wasn’t sure if he wanted to visit the future, out of respect for what this season’s 34-8 team accomplished.
“Truly, I don’t know what the future holds, because, we just ended this season,” he said. “So we’re going to savor this. We’re going to really enjoy it.
“On paper yes, we have a lot of players coming back and we have great recruits coming in. We’re graduating a really important senior class. I’m optimistic always as a coach. I’m hopeful the future is bright, it’s exciting and it’s because of the relationships that exist in the locker room, in our gym and in our campus.”
Despite its youth, Northwestern shared the GPAC title with Dordt and defending national champion Hastings, the team the Defenders defeated in the Round of 16. Six-foot middle Anna Kiel and 6-1 right side A.J. Horstman will be juniors next year while 5-11 middle Lauryn Hilger and 6-1 Makenzie Fink will be a senior and a sophomore, respectively.
That’s good news for setter Lacey Wacker, who as a freshman ranked fifth in the nation, averaging 11.2 assists per game. Wacker remarked after Friday’s loss to Westmont that the Red Raiders didn’t always show their true offense because of passing difficulties.
Wacker hopes she and her teammates will work out together this summer. She feels she needs to work on consistent decision making and recognizing match-up situations.
“I feel it’s really important that we all have really good chemistry because when you play as a team that’s when you’re really successful,” said Wacker. “Our hitters are incredible. They hit with such power and they hit at a very high point, which makes them very hard to stop.”
Veteran Northwestern coach Kyle Van Den Bosch called it special, winning a conference title with this group. Still, he feels various situations need to improve.
“We have to control the ball a little better as a team,” he said. “When the game speed is up, it’s harder to control the ball. We have to continue to play at that fast pace, control the ball. Then, everything will be a lot easier.”
Morningside Coach Beth Donnelly watched her team move from a sixth-place 8-8 in the 2016 GPAC standings to a fifth-place 10-6 this season. Both teams won 20 matches, but this year’s squad improved to 2-1 in pool play, one spot higher than a year ago, which enabled the program to compete in the Round of 16 for the first time.
Setter Callie Alberico will return along with a pair of 6-foot outside hitters, sophomore Emma Gerber and freshman Krista Zenk. Brittni Olson, a 6-1 sophomore middle will also come back along with defensive specialist Merrin Van Velzen.
“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” said Donnelly. “Obviously, we didn’t want to go out the way we did. I’m so proud of these girls and our five seniors. They will be very missed. The foundation was built off our five seniors.”
Zenk led the Mustangs with 11 kills in Friday afternoon’s loss to No. 7 Park. She said during the tournament she learned the importance of keeping composure, something she witnessed throughout the season from the seniors, led by outside hitters Jayde Bergmann and Jenn Buyert.
“We learned we had to play relentless, no matter what,” said Zenk. “We had so many upsets this year with games we weren’t supposed to win. The whole entire time, they believed in us and told us we are capable of anything, so be relentless and pursue for every ball we play.”