Volleyball off to best start in nine years

Evan Patzwald, Assistant Sports Editor

The South Dakota State volleyball team hosted their second home tournament of the season last weekend, playing three teams in the Jackrabbit Classic. 

The Jacks picked up wins over Southeastern Louisiana and Idaho on Friday, but they closed out the tournament with a loss to Drake on Saturday.

“Another good weekend,” coach Dan Georgalas said. “We know it’s a goal to win two out of three games at a minimum and we did that again. A new season starts this week with Summit League play beginning and to have an 8-3 start in nonconference is a huge accomplishment and something we’re happy about.”

And SDSU’s 8-3 start is their best start since 2012.

“When we’ve been winning, it’s been great playing with each other and playing for each other,” setter Carly Wedel said. “Coming out in tough moments and overcoming those together has been great.”

The Jacks kicked off the Jackrabbit Classic Friday morning against Southeastern Louisiana. They started the match well, winning the first set 25-19. The Lions got it going and won sets two and three, taking a 2-1 set lead in the match.

SDSU got it going again in the fourth finishing the set on a 13-4 run. In the final set, the Jacks won 15-9, winning the match 3-2. 

Crystal Burk finished with 21 kills and 12 digs. Ella Thompson, Chloe Stitt and Sydney Andreas each added 10 kills. Wedel had 59 assists and freshman Faith Saewert notched a career-high 24 digs on the defensive side. 

Later that evening, the Jackrabbits took the floor again against Idaho. The Vandals kept it close in the first set, but the Jacks dominated the rest of the way, completing the sweep.

Burk had 15 kills against the Vandals and has led the team in kills in all but two matches this season. Stitt had 10 kills and a .476 attack percentage.

“It’s great to have two lefts who are scoring so well right now because it just makes the rest of the offense click a little smoother,” Georgalas said.

Saturday against Drake was the conclusion of the tournament and SDSU did not look quite the same. In the first two sets, the Jackrabbits were outscored 13-25 in each set. Set three was closer, but it was too late as the Bulldogs picked up the final set, winning the match 3-0.

“We have been playing too well to have a performance like that,” Georgalas said of his team’s performance against Drake. “It was really disappointing, and I think we can all agree that we’re capable of more and truthfully our home fans have not seen our best volleyball yet.”

Wedel had 30 assists against the Bulldogs, with Burk and Stitt adding 11 assists and eight kills respectively. Wedel and Burk were named to the Jackrabbit Classic All-Tournament Team. 

“We’re all super frustrated with how we came out and performed against Drake, but it’s because our standards are now at such a higher level,” Georgalas said. “We’re talking about goals and vision in this program that haven’t been talked about in a while. That’s a good problem to have, it puts great perspective on everything.”

SDSU is hoping for a chance to play in the Summit League Tournament in November for the first time since 2010. The top six teams in the conference qualify for the tournament. The Jacks finished sixth last spring, but due to COVID-19, the Summit League shortened the tournament field to only the top four teams.

“That was an accomplishment that we didn’t really get to celebrate,” Georgalas said. “Finishing top six last year was something we succeeded in, but ultimately, we didn’t go down to the Pentagon and get that championship experience. We’re planning on being in Vermillion Thanksgiving weekend and we still have a lot of things to check off our checklist for this year.” 

Looking ahead, the Jackrabbits begin Summit League play in Vermillion against South Dakota on Friday at 7 p.m. They return to Frost Arena Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. to face North Dakota.