Young front line, Ysker lead team to wins over ranked opponents
Not one, not two, not three… Not LeBron James, but Augustana redshirt sophomore middle blocker Becca Finley.
In Augustana’s five-set loss against Wayne State, Finley recorded a block on four consecutive points, a rare feat at any level of volleyball.
Performances like Finley’s have propelled the Vikings to a 10-2 start this season—the same record last year’s 22-win team compiled throughout its first 12 games.
Despite losing five seniors, including All-American Holly Hafemeyer, head coach Ashley Buckley said her team’s early-season triumphs do not surprise her.
“I saw such progress at each position in the spring season that I was really confident going into this fall that we would be experienced enough to be successful,” Buckley said.
True freshman Tahlyr Banks was still in high school when the rest of her teammates participated in spring practice, but she made enough of an impression on her coaches to be inserted into the starting lineup for the team’s first games.
“She’s been such a great addition to our backcourt,” Buckley said. “She’s consistent, she’s great under pressure. She’s only made us that much better this season.”
Banks’ performance in the NSIC Challenge landed her a spot on its 12-woman all-tournament team. Fellow Vikings Courtney Ysker and Ashley Wilson, who earned MVP honors, joined her on the squad.
Wilson, a redshirt freshman anchors a devastating front line along with sophomores Bailey Koch and Finley. Their blocking ability gives the team a dynamic which many other high-level NSIC teams cannot compare. Augustana currently leads the conference in block rate, producing 2.5 blocks per set.
Koch credits both height (Finley, Wilson and Koch are listed at 6’2, 6’1 and 6’0 respectively) and her teammates for their success at the net.
“We have a great back row to get us in system and we have good court awareness,” Koch said. “It definitely helps that we are all roughly six feet tall, but we just stay persistent in putting balls down and closing blocks.”
Early success is one thing, but sustained excellence could be difficult for the Vikings. The NSIC is arguably the top volleyball conference in Division II athletics. The conference placed six teams in the latest AVCA (American Volleyball Coaches Association) Poll, including two of the top three, Concordia-St. Paul and Minnesota-Duluth. St. Paul has captured seven consecutive NCAA championships.
“I think, this year, we’re going to see a lot of people beating up on each other [in the conference],” Buckley said. “I think it’s anybody’s ballgame.”
Ysker agreed, expressing no lack of confidence in the team’s potential.
“No doubt in my mind we can compete with Concordia and UMD, but in order to do so, we have to stay focused and have fun because that’s when we play best,” Ysker said.
It seems likely, given the youth of the roster, that Augustana will be able to challenge for a conference title in the near future—whether it be this year or in the next few.
“We are going to be a scary team in a few years when all of the young players have a year or so under their belts,” Koch said. “I’m excited to know this program is going to continue to build and Augie volleyball is going to be a force to reckoned with.”