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Blue Hawks look to gain respect in home opener

It has been a long season so far for the Dickinson State volleyball team.

The team is off to a rough start going 0-8 with all matches on the road.

But the Blue Hawks will finally play on their home court at 7 p.m. today against the Frontier Conference's top-ranked team, Rocky Mountain College, in the Scott Gymnasium. Seniors Melissa Avila and Kelly O'Connor both agreed the entire team is excited and a home match is just what the team needs.

"I'm amped," O'Connor said. "I'm so excited to play in this gym."

Avila added: "We've been on the road for too long. It's going to be good to be in front of our crowd with people on our side ... They'll be cheering for us it won't be like us against the world. It'll be us and the crowd against the team. It'll be fun."

But for head coach Jon Stenman, the excitement is a little less fun and more first at-home, new-coach jitters.

"The first game is always special," Stenman said. "Traditionally one of the biggest crowds of the year, everybody is excited, new coach, a lot of new players coming in, especially coming off this five-set match. People are coming up and saying 'hey, you guys are close.' There's a lot of excitement around here about the volleyball program now. I've got a lot of nervous excitement. You always want to come out and you want to play your best in the conference games."

Despite Monday's five-set loss to South Dakota School of Mines, the Blue Hawks offensively played their best all season and have shown improvement on both ends of the ball. The team won the second and fourth sets of the match and freshmen Magdalyn Rauser and Whitney Weidow both set career highs in kills, also the first time the Blue Hawks had two players in double-digits in kills this season.

"We weren't worried about the mistakes," Avila said about the team's mentality on Monday. "We just did the little things right and that was the biggest thing. We would worry about the little things too much and those are the things you need to succeed at in order to get the big picture. I think we kind of just went in and did the little things right."

Defensively, the team has also been impressive, averaging almost 20 digs a set this season, which Stenman called remarkable.

"That was really exciting to see, especially after the tough two losses that we had down in Aberdeen (S.D.)," Stenman said. "But we've put ourselves in a position where we know what is successful, we know how to adjust a little bit now and we are finally putting ourselves in a position where we can win."

Avila and O'Connor both have been working overtime during games, recording unusually high statistics per match. In Monday's match, O'Connor, a setter, had 20 attack attempts, while Avila had an astonishing 72 attempts.

"When you jump 72-73 times, she didn't have much in the tank at the end of the match and I didn't expect her to," Stenman said. "But she played very smart and only had five or six hitting errors in a five set match, that's outstanding."

DSU has its work already cut out against Rocky Mountain. The Bears are 8-2 and currently ranked No. 25 in the NAIA. The team has been focusing on how the Bears will attack, which are with 31s, a quick ball away from the setter, and slides. Due to the inexperience at the middle position, Stenman and his assistants have really focused on preparing the girls to anticipate these hits and how to approach them properly.

What DSU has succeeded with over the season is scoring on split blocks on the outside. The team's offensive plan will be to work hard at the middle position and try and try to get those one-on-one blocks and hit around the Bears.

Stenman's objective for the season has always been for the team to gain a favorable opinion in the conference. Tonight, all the losses are forgotten and the road to respectability starts here.

"It doesn't matter that we went 0-8. Our goal in the beginning of the season wasn't to win 8 games it was to gain respectability in the conference," he said. "But we haven't played conference game yet and this is the chance we have to make people say 'they can play volleyball at Dickinson.'"

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.