Elite volleyball team takes next step

Michelle Pollard

Michelle Pollard

The South Dakota State University volleyball team made history last week.

The 2001 Jackrabbits are the first team in SDSU history to make the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament. The tourney is set to begin on Thursday, with the Jacks slated to take on Truman State (Mo.) University in Allendale, Mich. Grand Valley State University was awarded hosting the 21st annual tournament.

If SDSU wins on Thursday, they will advance to the semi-finals on Friday. The finals are set for Saturday.

While the Jacks are excited to make it to the elite eight, they are still somewhat amazed that they made it this far.

“They were pretty shocked,” coach Andrew Palileo said. “It hasn’t hit them yet, but once we get on the plane and start practicing there, it will sink in. But they’re very excited.”

Along with SDSU (26-5) and Truman (37-1), Barry (29-2), Western State (29-3), Lock Haven (28-12), California-San Diego (24-6), Mercy (34-1) and Grand Valley State (28-4) are in the tournament.

SDSU qualified for national tournament by winning the North Central Regional Tournament. The Jacks defeated North Dakota State in Fargo in five games to win the region.

“All of our emotions came out,” junior Annie Ebnet said. “Knowing that they beat us 3-0 two times and to go and beat them in their gym, it was unbelievable.”

Truman currently is ranked second in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. They qualified for nationals by winning the South Central Region. Truman has dominated nearly all of their opponents this season. They have one loss to Columbia College and 26 of their matches were over in three games, seven went four games and four were decided in the fifth game.

On the other hand, the Jackrabbits have had seven matches go to five games and 10 stretch to four games. Palileo attributes this to being in the North Central Conference. While the Jacks have had several matches go longer, they are 7-0 in five game matches and 7-3 in four game matches.

“Top to bottom, we have a better conference,” Palileo said.

The NCC is traditionally one of the toughest conferences for volleyball with several teams in the ranked in the top 25 in the nation.

However, the numbers that Truman has put up this season are stronger than simply playing easy teams.

The Bulldogs have lost only 18 games this season and SDSU has played 82 games and has lost 35.

They have the highest winning percentage in the nation and finished 11th nationally in hitting percentage with .278 (2066 kills).

SDSU will have to watch for Truman’s Cassy Felkerson and Monica Marlowe. Felkerson has 451 kills, 136 blocks, .325 hitting percentage and 80 digs on the season. Marlowe has 397 digs and 1331 assists.

As a team, the Jackrabbits have tallied 1798 kills, 1497 assists, 2077 digs and 264 blocks on the season. They will be led by All-Americans Shauna Sturm and Angie Rime.

In order to prepare for the Bulldogs, Palileo said that the Jacks are going back to the basics.

“It’s almost like pre-season again,” said Palileo.

Along with going back to the basics, they are looking specifically at Truman.

“We’re looking at certain things they do on offense and looking at their defense and where we can attack their weaknesses,” Ebnet said.

Ultimately, the Jacks want to accomplish the goal that they set out for at the beginning of the season: to be national champions.

While there have been some ups and downs this season, the Jacks came up with the wins when it counted.

“We started off struggling a little bit,” Ebnet said. “We had a lot of new players come in this year, but we have come a long way defensively.”

“We want to go in there and win,” Palileo said. “We need to take care of what we need to do. Just like at regionals.”

Ebnet said the Jacks learned an important lesson at regionals, “we can do a lot if we put our minds to it and work together.”