SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Dordt and Northwestern are rivals on the court, but the respective volleyball teams are coming together off it to help a great cause.
The two Great Plains Athletic Conference rivals meet for the second time this season on Wednesday inside DeWitt Gymnasium as both come into the match ranked in the NAIA top 10.
Northwestern, ranked third, is riding an 18-match winning streak and is 21-1 overall while Dordt, ranked seventh, carries a 19-4 record into the 7:30 p.m. contest.
“This year we are striving in our rivalry to be productive for the purpose of others, fundraising towards breast cancer awareness,” said Dordt coach Chad Hanson. “It’s been a really neat competing partnership our program competing as a campus against their program competing as a campus to see which program can raise the most amount of funds. Our volleyball programs have been spearheading this in wonderful ways.”
Each team will don pink T-shirts in warm ups that have a common theme of "Fighting United."
“Dordt and Northwestern volleyball striving together against this breast cancer entity that it is, fundraising to help families through it,” said Hanson.
“We compete hard on the court, but we're also working together for this cause,” said Northwestern coach Kyle Van Den Bosch.
The Red Raiders enter the match as the lone remaining unbeaten in the GPAC at 8-0 at the halfway point of the conference slate. Dordt, meanwhile, is 7-1, with its lone league setback coming in Orange City.
The Defenders, last year’s national runners-up, are 7-3 against ranked opponents this season and come into the match off a four-set loss on the road at No. 1 Viterbo.
“We like that, that’s why we built the schedule the way we did,” said Hanson. “We want to continue to play high-level teams, we want to keep learning about ourselves and sharpening the areas we need to sharpen because each step along the way that we get to do that helps us towards accomplishing our goals later on in the season.”
Two of the best setters in both the GPAC and the NAIA will go head to head in this match with Northwestern freshman Lacey Wacker and Dordt junior Jamie Gesink.
Wacker, a former Jackson County Central (Minn.) prep, leads the GPAC and the NAIA at 11.9 assists per set. Gesink, a former Western Christian prep, isn’t that far behind at 10.4 assists per set.
“Lacey has had a great start to her career at Northwestern,” said Van Den Bosch. “She has put people in positions to be successful. She is a real student of the game and thinks the game really well.
“She’s played a lot of volleyball in high school so that helps make the transition. She is just really connected with these hitters both on and off the court which has made a really special bond. She thinks the game really well for a freshman.”
Northwestern’s offensive attack at Wacker’s disposal has three hitters with over 200 kills led by former Unity Christian prep Anna Kiel (289) along with A.J. Horstman (Pella Christian) with 241 and Lauryn Hilger (Millard South) with 200.
Kiel ranks third in kills per set in the GPAC while leading the league in hitting percentage (.411).
Dordt junior Ema Altena (Western Christian) leads the GPAC in kills per set at 4.4 and her 348 total kills rank second in the league behind Dakota Wesleyan’s Rebecca Frick (350).
Leah Kamp, a junior from Tinley Park, Illinois, is another strong hitter in the Defenders' lineup for Gesink, a returning second-team All-American, to employ on the offensive attack.
“Jamie Gesink is doing wonderful things,” said Hanson. “She plays all aspects of the ball really well in offense and defenses most often will see her in that setting role. We rely on her and she delivers."
The two rivals have split matches each of the last three seasons since Northwestern won all three meetings during the 2013 campaign.
Northwestern, whose lone loss is to No. 9 Corban in five sets, a team Dordt has a win over, won the first meeting in four competitive sets as the teams opened the GPAC slate against each other on Sept. 12.
“For us, it’s going to come down to an aggressive, consistent mentality,” said Hanson. “The last time we played we were often on our heels. They were putting pressure on us and we put pressure on ourselves.
“This go around we need to be actively pushing back and creating a pressure on their side of the net. If we can do that in the primary ways that we want to control the serving and the passing, that’s going to be a comfortable match for us and a fun one.”
During the current win streak for the Red Raiders 11 matches have ended in three-game sweeps while only two have gone all five sets, a thrilling road win over then-No. 1 Hastings and a non-conference match against Buena Vista.
“The thing that’s really been fun and special about this group is they play as a team,” said Van Den Bosch. “They care about each other a lot. You can see someone gets a kill all the other girls are just as excited for her as if they get a kill themselves.”