Northwestern College volleyball sets sights on high expectations
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COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL | NORTHWESTERN RED RAIDERS

Northwestern College volleyball sets sights on high expectations

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ORANGE CITY, Iowa — The Northwestern College volleyball team feels like it's right where it wants to be as the season begins Friday.

The Red Raiders, who start the season with a 4:30 p.m. Friday match against Wayland Baptist, are ranked seventh nationally and they’re the top-ranked team in the GPAC preseason poll.

The outside pressure doesn’t bother the Red Raiders at all. They made it to the national tournament last year, and lost in the Round of 16 to Viterbo University in Sioux City. The Red Raiders ended up with a 26-9 record.

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Volleyball NAIA Northwestern vs. Rocky Mountain
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Volleyball NAIA Morningside vs. Embry-Riddle
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Volleyball NAIA Dordt vs. The Master's
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Volleyball NAIA Morningside vs. Embry-Riddle
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Volleyball NAIA Morningside vs. Embry-Riddle

Northwestern graduated just two of its players — Lauryn Hilger and Allison Koehlmoos — last season, and with it, the Red Raiders lost Hilger’s 1,642 kills and Koehlmoos’ 214 digs.

Junior Lacey Wacker and sophomore Emily Strasser played pivotal roles as underclassmen last season, and Wacker had a team-high 24 digs in last year’s season-ending loss to Viterbo. They were also the only two players on last year’s roster to play all 116 sets.

Wacker believes that with as many women back as Northwestern does, the expectations and rankings are welcomed.

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Volleyball NAIA Northwestern vs. McPherson
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Volleyball NAIA Dordt vs. Corban
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Volleyball NAIA Morningside vs. Westmont
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Volleyball NAIA Dordt vs. Corban
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Volleyball NAIA Dordt vs. Corban

“We just want to come in and work hard, and continue to live up to those expectations,” Wacker said. “There’s no pressure. We just want to come out and play our game every night.”

The Red Raiders don’t see the No. 7 national ranking or being voted on as No. 1 in the conference as pressure — they see it as a goal to set every night. They want to be the best team on the court each and every night.

“It’s a place you want to be as a program,” Northwestern coach Kyle Van Den Bosch said. “You want to get everyone’s best shot, because it feels like then you really get a chance to improve every time because people are going to take some pretty big risks.”

Van Den Bosch wants Wacker to have a good year as the main setter. Last season, Wacker had 1,336 assists and she averaged 11.62 assists per set.

“Lacey is a great competitor,” Van Den Bosch said. “She’s a great teammate and she tries to put everybody in a great position to be successful. She loves the game of volleyball and is always finding ways to try to get to the edge and get a little bit better, which is contagious on the team.”

The Red Raiders will employ a 5-1 offense to spread the ball around more as they did last season.

MEET ME IN THE MIDDLE: Emily Van Ginkel will return as one of the Red Raiders’ middle hitters this season, but she’ll have a new sidekick beside her.

Sophomore Bekah Horstman will take over the No. 2 middle hitter spot after being an outside hitter for Pella Christian High School in Pella, Iowa.

According to Van Den Bosch, Horstman ‘soaked up’ the opportunity to play in the middle when she arrived it to Orange City.

[More GPAC volleyball: Experienced Morningside hopes for improved season.]

“She’s starting to understand it a little more and been through at least one season of starting at middle,” Van Den Bosch said. “(Emily and Bekah) were both first-year middles last year, but they get along really well and they really take pride in doing it well together as a group of middles.”

The two combined for 395 kills with Van Ginkel leading the way with 211.

Makenzie Fink is the team’s returning leader in kills, as the junior from Lanark, Illinois, had 315 kills.

WELCOME BACK: A.J. Kacmarynski and Anna Wedel have been waiting for this season to start even when last season hadn’t ended yet.

Kacmarynski and Wedel both had season-ending injuries, and got to take in a different perspective from the sidelines.

Being injured wasn’t new, unfortunately, for Kacmarynski.

The Pella Christian graduate tore both her ACLs in high school.

“I knew what my role was when I got injured, and learned not take it personal,” Kacmarynski said. “I had to be patient and understanding. I understand the process. It’s helped me become a better teammate.”

When Kacmarynski got back to shape, she hit the gym and weight room hard. She worked on her hitting and defense, and feels she can pick up where she left off when she was previously 100 percent.

Kacmarynski averaged 3.5 kills last season before her injury occurred early in 2018. In 2017, she started every match as a right-side hitter, and earned NAIA Honorable Mention All-American status. She ranked second on the team in kills and third in both digs and blocks.

Wedel, meanwhile, played just four matches before her foot injury, which was a stress fracture.

When she was on the bench, Wedel took to being a cheerleader on the bench.

“It’s a totally different role, and just encouraging,” Wedel said. “You have a new respect for people who are in that position. For managers giving water … it’s a whole different feel. I have so much respect for managers.”

She’ll return as an outside hitter for redshirt junior season. In 2017 as a freshman, she was a first team All-American.

Wedel had 28 matches with 10 or more kills, and she recorded four double-doubles that season.

“They are both good attackers,” Van Den Bosch said. “We feel like we have five really good attackers and really would like a nice, balanced offense.”

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The Mustangs knocked off two ranked teams en route to a 7-1 start to the season, but they then lost a five-setter to College of Saint Mary and sweeps against No. 9 Midland and Doane. “We always say there is never a night off in the GPAC," coach Beth Donnelly said.

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