Midgets volleyball season ends in exit at WDA tourney
Dickinson’s season came to an end on Friday Nov. 12, after falling to Bismarck St. Mary’s in the consolation bracket of the Western Dakota Association tournament.
The Midgets entered the match knowing that the fate of the season would require victory to continue, and when the seniors stepped onto the court against Bismarck St. Mary, their coaches, fans and they knew that the outing could be their last.
The two teams met in the consolation bracket of the double elimination west region tournament in what was a bitterly contested match highlighting strong performances and elevated emotions.
The Midgets' (7-13, 17-19) were in search of a chance at the state qualifier ticket that awaited the winner of the bracket, but were ultimately cut short by the Saints (13-7, 21-15) after losing in five sets.
Despite a season featuring many young players in new positions, with injuries sidelining key players, the four DHS seniors ended their high school careers with a plethora of memories and a skill set needed for continued opportunities at the next level — but most importantly, they gained a sisterhood that they say will stand the test of time.
“I have gained girls that I can trust and good friendships. I think all of us can say that we gained a good maturation from (the season),” Staci Kempenich, a DHS senior, said. “I really stepped into leadership and I learned how to become a leader and how to play that role.”
The added pressure of the season-ending match loomed over the Midget early, as the team strived to bring out their very best from the opening whistle. The orange and black controlled the ball into the final minutes with a four-point run late to finish the set at 25-17.
A lapse in focus in the second set, when trailing on at a seven-point deficit early, marked a quick 11-5 deficit to overcome. Consistent fundamental play would make a small run of points, but would prove too much for the Midgets as they dropped the second set 25-18.
With the stage set for a third set, sophomore middle hitters Jazmin Barry, Maeva Kuehl and Jenna Decker came out aggressive. Barry showed streaks of brilliance in a third set that ended in the Midget’s favor 25-16. Barry’s three kills and a commanding block helped lift the team to rally.
“(Barry) is one of those kids who had to grow up fast and we had a lot of those sophomores that really had to contribute,” Jay Schobinger, Midget’s head coach, said. “All you can ask is to give yourself an opportunity to compete and win, and we gave ourselves those opportunities at the end of the year. We just came up a little short.”
Kuehl tallied three blocks in the match while Decker’s presence upfront provided the Midgets with ample attacking options — tallying nine kills over the five sets.
Barry and Kuehl, while relatively inexperienced at the varsity level before Decker’s injury early in the season, worked fast to develop offensive skills needed to offset a costly early loss on the offensive side. The early injury exacerbated key losses from the season prior, leaving senior hitter Taya Hofpauf and Kempenich in new positions while also trying to lead their squad.
“We knew coming into this season that we were going to be a very defensive team. We had a lot of younger girls come up and step into roles on the offense side of things,” Hopfauf said. “For volleyball this season I was put in a position that I had never played before … figuring out how to be the leader, while still trying to figure out what I was actually doing was something that I had to overcome.”
The fourth set saw the pendulum swing once more late as Dickinson was holding a lead of two points at 24-22 and were looking to close the door on the Saints. Errors on the attack would be their downfall, in the most contested set of the game, as the two sides jockeyed for the lead beyond the 25 point mark, before Bismarck St. Mary would clinch the frame 27-25.
As fatigue set in, both sides were called to the net for a fifth and final set. Abated breathes and hushed prayers would play backdrop to a tightly contested back and forth battle through the final play. Tied at 12, heartbreak for Dickinson would come as three points would seal the deal for the season and close a chapter for seniors.
Midget seniors maintained their effective leadership throughout, in the back and front rows. Setter Kempenich ended the night with 48 assists, with 16 coming in the fourth alone — a season high. Libero Reese Hauck would lead in digs with 28, followed closely by Hopfauf at 23, Kempenich with 14 and Makenna Eckelberg with 11.
Dickinson’s aces in Eckelberg and Hopfauf saw the snipers command the service line, garnering the team’s six aces between the two.
Hauck and outside hitter Caton Pearcy were named WDA all-conference second team players. Pearcy accumulated 258 kills and 30 aces over the regular season and ended the post season with an outstanding 29 kills against the Saints. Hauck would hold the backline with 346 digs and 13 aces in the regular season. According to Hauck, she achieved more than just accolades this season but pushed herself through her own personal thresholds.
“One thing that I got from this year was trusting myself and being able to be there and have confidence for kids that don't necessarily have it for themselves,” Hauck said. “I have always struggled with having confidence in myself and in my game, and I had to just set that aside. Knowing that there were younger girls that needed me to be confident for them.”
When talking with the Press, Schobinger noted a previous conversation he had with legendary Dickinson State University coach Roger Huffman regarding the uniqueness of coaching volleyball and how of all team sports it provides only limited control of the game for coaches.
“I think that is why this is such a good sport because once the ball is in the air every decision is made by the kids out there,” Schoginer said. “I have watched kids really mature and learn how to be independent because of this. I tell kids at the end of the year, ‘I hope and pray that down the road that you can say I taught you something and I hope and pray that it has nothing to do with volleyball,’”
Schobinger added, “Athletics is a little microcosm of life.”