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Experience a plus for Morningside heading into nationals

Experience a plus for Morningside heading into nationals


SIOUX CITY | Beth Donnelly isn’t a fortune teller.

During two previous appearances to the NAIA Volleyball National Championships as the event’s host, Donnelly coached Morningside to pool-play upsets of Park in 2016 and Columbia a year later.

A three-game sweep over Tabor to finish pool play enabled the Mustangs to venture into where no other team in program history had ever gone, the Round of 16, where Park posted a victory and Donnelly’s squad ended a 20-14 season.

Is there a potential upset victim among the three teams Morningside (13-14) will face in Pool B? It all begins Tuesday night as second-seeded Park (29-1) plays an 8 o’clock match against the Mustangs.

“Time will tell,” said Donnelly. “Park is our first team right off the bat. We will be ready, but at the same time, they are the No. 2 team in the country for a reason. We’ll have to play our best for three sets to get a shot at them. Our defense, for a fact, we can frustrate hitters. Not many teams play tough defense as well as we do in the GPAC. I hope it can prevail.

“We can’t assume anything untypical will happen. I want to make sure our girls understand the importance of this, that they have an opportunity to play on the bigger stage. They have been granted an opportunity to play. We definitely have been given a gift and we will try our best to represent it.”

Park was 12-0 while winning the American Midwest Conference. Fifteenth-ranked Westmont (25-5), Wednesday’s 8 p.m. opponent, was the runner-up to The Masters (Dordt’s Pool E opponent Tuesday night) in the Golden State Athletic Conference.

Rounding off Morningside's Pool B schedule is a 6 p.m. Thursday match against No. 18 Embry-Riddle (28-6), which went 16-0 while winning the California Pacific Conference.

Morningside returns seven players from last year’s tournament roster, including first-team GPAC middle hitter Emma Gerber, a 6-foot junior who has 294 kills and 87 blocks. Gerber, a second-team GPAC pick a year ago, has recorded double-digit kill efforts in four of her last six matches.

Second-team GPAC outside hitter Krista Zenk (324 kills, 264 digs, 38 blocks), a 6-foot sophomore, has slammed 12 or more kills in five of her last six matches, not including a 25-kill effort in a 3-2 win over Northwestern on Oct. 2. This was one of two wins over nationally-ranked opponents this season for a team that began Donnelly’s third year with the program with a 3-1 win over No. 23 Corban.

Another tournament veteran is GPAC honorable mention setter Callie Alberico (861 assists), who directs an attack that averages 12.4 kills per game. Brittni Olson (186 kills, 78 blocks), a 6-1 junior middle blocker has also experienced the tournament along with outside hitter Caitlin Makovicka (161 kills, 38 blocks), plus sophomore defensive specialists Ashley Boer (228 digs) and Merrin Van Velzen (227 digs).

Two freshmen also see playing time in Morningside’s rotation, including libero Kayla Harris (436 digs), who won GPAC honorable mention honors. Lauren Rohwer (82 kills, 31 blocks) has played the middle and right side positions in her rookie year.

Donnelly is counting upon the experience of the veterans to come through Tuesday night and as the school’s seventh national tournament continues the rest of the week. Playing in the challenging GPAC – where Morningside is among six tournament participants – will be another key.

“It’s the 100 percent truth,” said Donnelly. “There are nerves. It is a national tournament with a lot of challenging teams. But I feel we are the most prepared.

“Day in and day out, we have competition in the GPAC where we definitely play the toughest teams night after night in September and October so that when November rolls around we are as good as we are. What we have seen there is not a ton of surprise. We have seen someone fast in the middle like (Dordt’s) Ema Altena or someone on the outside running like (Midland’s) Priscilla O’Dowd who runs faster than anyone else. It will be anything like we have seen in the GPAC. I truly think that is the case.”

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