By Brad Blume
Hardrockers set to make run into post season
Sports Information Director
RAPID CITY --- The South Dakota School of Mines women’s volleyball team had one of its best regular seasons in the last 10 years, posting a 21-5 overall record and finishing 9-5 in the Dakota Athletic Conference.
All the hard work and dedication has paid off for the Lady Hardrockers as they earned the No. 3 seed heading into the DAC tournament which starts Wednesday. SDM will take on Mayville State at the King Center in a 7 p.m. match. Dickinson State (No. 1) and Black Hills State (No. 2) got first round byes while Jamestown College (No. 4) will face Valley City State (No. 5) in the other first round bout.
The Hardrockers defeated the Comets twice during the regular schedule, posting identical 3-1 scores. SDM volleyball head coach Beth Honaker has been busy preparing the ‘Rockers for the third installment knowing how hard it is to three-peat against any given team.
“Especially when it comes to volleyball,” Honaker said.
The Comets have had somewhat of an up-and-down season. MaSU came away with four conference wins and just beat out Minot State for the final tournament seed. They have an overall record of 11-19. Mayville has also had to move some personnel around after one of their top players, Betsy Winkler, went down with a leg injury.
“They lost their setter against us to a knee injury the second time we played them in October,” Honaker said. “The person they have in there at the setter position now (Brianne Gebeke) has never set before, but she is the most athletic girl on the team and is doing a heck of a job for them.”
The Comets also have a platoon of outside and middle hitters that can get the job done and can attack an opponent from any number of angles.
“They distribute the ball very well,” Honaker added.
Mayville’s go-to-girl as of late is outside hitter and lefty Jenny Chamberlain. She has 254 kills on the year and seems to be the spark of the Comet offense.
“They have been going to her a lot more lately and she has pretty much carried them through the tail end of the season,” Honaker said. “We expect her to get the ball a lot more tomorrow.” Another standout player for Mayville is middle blocker Alyssa Clancy. Not only is she good on defense, her offensive effort is exceptional also. She is fifth in the DAC for kills with 345 total and is third in the DAC and 33rd in the NAIA for blocks, tallying 143 total and has an average of 1.4 a game.
“She hits the ball very well and she blocks very well. We are going to have to push the ball to the pins and try to keep her moving,” Honaker said.
“They have a couple of outside hitters with very good leadership qualities (Rebecca Evans and Ashley Nelson),” the coach added. “They are a very high emotional and high intensity team. I think as long as we can keep the momentum on our side, we will be okay.”
To do that, the Hardrockers will rely heavily on their defense. SDM has elevated their defensive play as of late. The resurgence is centered around junior libero Jenny Hiykel. The 6-foot 1-inch junior from Omaha, Neb., who is a six-time DAC Libero of the Week, a three-time Region III Libero of the Week and a NAIA National Libero of the Week honoree, leads the Hardrockers in digs with 682. She is second in the DAC and ninth in the nation for digs per game at 7.2.
“We are blocking the ball pretty well. You have to with a libero like (Jenny) Hiykel,” Honaker said. “Also, Tessa (Howe), our setter, is playing well in the back row, especially digging balls.”
Howe is also an offensive asset, having 1,056 assists on the season giving her fourth best in the conference and she is also ranked 38th in the NAIA for averaging 11 a game.
In the front row, the Hardrockers have an awesome 1-2-3 punch with junior Ashley Hoffman and sophomore Katherine Hanson on the outside while senior Jennie Malone excels in the middle.
“Jennie has been doing good things all year long and she finally broken into the player of the week status,” Honaker said referring to Malone receiving the honor this week. “She gets nominated on a regular basis and she was finally able to get it. We are going to continue to lean on her in tough situations or even when things are going well. There is no doubt that she is mentally and physically able to handle it.”
The Hardrockers made the DAC tournament a year ago as the No. 5 seed and were knocked out after the first round. Before that, none of the current SDM players had experienced post season play.
“Whether this group of girls is considered veterans, they are not veterans when it comes to playoffs,” Honaker said. “Last year was the first time these girls made it out of conference. Getting beat in the first round last year, these girls don’t know what it’s like to get to the DAC Final Four.”
The Hardrockers roster three seniors, seven junior and some talented underclassmen. If they want to reach the elusive DAC Final Four, they must first put forth a good showing Wednesday night in the tourney opener.
“The good news is that we do have home court advantage and even though it is playoffs, it should feel more like a home match,” Honaker said.
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.