Optimistic Blue Hawks begin Frontier Conference era at homeWhat better way to prepare a volleyball team for its conference season than to play two five-set matches on the road in the run-up to the games that matter?
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
What better way to prepare a volleyball team for its conference season than to play two five-set matches on the road in the run-up to the games that matter?
That’s what Dickinson State did, beating Valley City State on Aug. 31 and falling to South Dakota Mines on Tuesday.
The Blue Hawks begin the Frontier Conference era at 4 p.m. today when they host Rocky Mountain College at Scott Gymnasium.
Maura Bronte, DSU’s second-year head coach, said things are beginning to look up for the Blue Hawks.
“We’re learning how to fight and compete, which is awesome,” she said. “We’ve just got to be a little more clean on our side, a little more disciplined. But I think that’s what’s going to carry us into the Frontier is being clean and disciplined.”
The Blue Hawks have a 2-6 record this season. It’s nothing to brag about, but it’s a much better start than the 2011 season, which ended with a winless 0-26 record.
“We’re gelling a lot better than last year,” DSU senior Ebony Sanders said.
Sanders has been one of the team’s biggest surprises, Bronte said. A change in rotation has kept the 5-foot-9 outside hitter at the net more.
“I think, honestly, I’ve only been focusing on the front row,” Sanders said. “Last year, I played all the way around because there was no one else to go in for me. It’s a lot better. I can just focus on blocking and hitting, that’s pretty much it. I don’t have to worry about serving. I don’t have enough time to think about everything. I just go.”
Junior setter Melissa Avila leads the Blue Hawks’ balanced offensive performance with a 47 kills and has been solid defensively as well, coming up with 64 digs, which is second on the team to senior libero Chelsea Seibel.
She said beating the Bears (4-9) will require DSU to take control of the tempo and turn Rocky’s strengths into weaknesses.
“We have to play our volleyball,” Avila said. “We can’t try and play up to their level or down to their level. We have to stick with what we know and what we’ve learned and play that way, that’s how we’re going to win games.”
Rocky, like most of the teams in the Frontier, presents interesting challenges for the Blue Hawks.
Foremost with the Bears is their height.
Four of Rocky’s top five attackers stand 6-foot-1 or taller. DSU’s tallest player is Shaunda Dvorak, a 6-foot senior middle hitter.
“Blocking is going to be key for us,” Bronte said. “We’re definitely not as big as some of the teams in the Frontier.”
DSU struggled at times against size-laden teams from the Great Plains Athletic Conference during a two-day, four-match tournament at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.
Through eight matches, opponents are hitting .228 against DSU with an average of 11.1 kills per set. The Blue Hawks are putting down just .040 of their attacks with 7.8 kills per set.
Nonetheless, Bronte hopes those difficult early matches have helped the Blue Hawks develop a resistance against the type of teams they’ll be facing in the Frontier.
“I think our preseason did a good job of setting us up,” Bronte said. “Not only having those long matches you have to fight through, but also going to Northwestern. That tournament was a good setup to see teams that look like the Frontier. Big, physical, strong teams — that’s what we’re going to be facing. It’s good to get a couple of those under our belts too.”