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COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL

Wayne State volleyball takes top spot in AVCA D-II poll, but schedule doesn't get easier

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Wayne State's Jessie Brandl

Wayne State senior libero Jessie Brandl goes for a dig during a match in Wayne, Neb., earlier this season. 

The Wayne State College volleyball team is off to its second best start of the season.

With two wins this weekend, the NCAA Division II top-ranked Wildcats will be off to a 16-0 start, tied for the best start in program history.

It’s the third time in program history where the Wildcats have been ranked No. 1, and the first since Oct. 25, 2010.

The Wildcats have beaten four ranked teams to get to their 14-0 stat. Those four ranked teams are No. 5 West Florida, no. 12 West Texas A&M, and No. 6 Concordia-St. Paul twice.

Wildcats coach Scott Kneifl has only 12 ladies on this year’s team, including Dakota Valley High School grad Ally Beresford.

Kneifl said having a smaller group makes for better team camaraderie.

“They believe in each other and they accept their roles really well,” Kneifl said. “It’s one of those things where you have a small group going in the same direction.”

One of the key players in the Wildcats’ unblemished start is setter Rachel Walker. Walker is a junior for the Wildcats. She ranks fourth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in assists per set at 11.15.

The hitters for the Wildcats have had key contributions, too.

The two middle hitters — sophomores Maggie Brahmer and Taya Beller — are the Top 2 hitters in the NSIC.

Brahmer has a .462 hitting percentage, and that’s top in the NSIC. Beller is second at .433 ahead of Sergeant Bluff-Luton grad Kenzie Foley (.383), who is at St. Cloud State.

“We are really strong in the middle, which is nice,” Kneifl said. “It’s opened up some one on ones for Kelsie (Cada) on the outside. Offensively, it starts with our middles, but we have other people who can definitely put the ball away.”

Cada, to Kneifl’s point, is sixth in kills per set at 3.68.

“This is her third year in the program, but it feels like she’s been here longer than that,” Kneifl said. “It’s one of those things where she gets it. It’s really nice having her out there. She’s like having a coach on the floor, to be honest with you.”

On the defensive side, meanwhile, WSC’s lone senior is Jessie Brandl, who recently moved from the middle back position to the libero.

It’s a change that Kneifl thought Brandl could make, since the Stanton, Nebraska, senior is athletic.

It’s taken some time for her to get better at that position, but it’s an adjustment Brandl said she’s quite proud of.

Brandl played the left-back position in high school, so she was familiar with what she needed to do, such as attack the ball differently.

“I’m just a usual talker on the court,” Brandl said. “I like telling people what’s open. I like making others look good.”

Those two wins, however, won’t come easy.

The Wildcats are on the road this weekend to face No. 4 St. Cloud State and No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth.

“We can’t look down on any teams,” Brandl said. “We went to Winona State and Upper Iowa this weekend, and we got challenged. I think that’s how every week is going to go. We have the No. 1 on our backs right now, and I think everyone is going to come after us, of course.”

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