Spiking, digging, passing and dancing.
If any volleyball program hopes to sniff success, those first three elements are essential. Senior Courtney Ysker and sophomore Becca Finley have provided the 2014 Augustana Vikings with the fourth.
Most prosperous teams say camaraderie is a necessary ingredient to winning, and the dance parties thrown in the volleyball locker room fall in the category of team-building.
Whether the dancing has sparked the team or not, a 14-5 record is something that cannot be so easily debated. This team is good. The next few weeks will determine just how good it is.
The women have whipped the dregs of the NSIC and beaten some solid NSIC foes to boot—including Southwest Minnesota State, the No. 6 team in Division II, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll.
“At times it’s a little harder to get pumped and have that energy,” junior middle blocker Sydney Hunsley said about playing less formidable opponents. “For the most part
we’re pretty consistent, but we do have our times in games
where we play [down] to our opponent’s level.”
The Vikings avoided any letdowns last weekend when they traversed into North Dakota for a pair of matches. The women swept Minot State and Mary, who have combined for an abysmal two conference victories.
“It’s a long road trip, and I thought, going into this weekend, we were very confident with our serve-receive play, which paid off against Minot State,” head coach Ashley Buckley said. “We setted out at a high percentage, and our offense was really working at the net.”
Against Minot, the Vikings turned to seldom-used true freshman Alex Banker to captain the offense. She, in turn, provided the team with 22 set assists.
“She [Banker] stepped in and led the charge,” Buckley said.
For the match, Ysker, who recently spiked her 1,000th kill, tallied 13 kills, while redshirt freshman Ashley Wilson supplied another dozen.
The Vikings may not be ranked as highly as some of their NSIC opponents, but no other team stands as tall. Literally.
Seven women measure at least six feet tall, and four of those seven consistently see action for the team. This height is a key reason why the team leads the NSIC in blocks, at a rate of 2.54 per game. The second closest team, Northern State, records only 2.24.
“We have a crazy tall team compared to the other teams in the conference,” Hunsley said. “I think we have that intimidation factor a little bit when we go into the gym.”
Intimidation and dance moves will not be enough to catapult the Vikings to the top of the NSIC. Nevertheless, Wilson thinks this team has the chops to win out.
“We reevaluated our goals this past weekend,” she said. “The two major goals are to finish conference play undefeated and to host the first round of the conference tournament and win. If we play to our full potential, we’ll be able to do it.”
Three top-12 teams remain on the Vikings’ schedule (Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota-Duluth and Wayne State), so a winning streak like Wilson describes would be exemplary.
“I’m pleased that we’re 14- against some really good opponents,” Buckley said. “We’ve got to continue to get better each week if we want to be competitive in postseason play.”
The team did itself no favors by losing at home to USF Tuesday night. The Cougars came back from a two-sets-to-one defecit to knock off the No. 20 Vikings.
The team can afford no more slip-ups if it hopes to make the NCAA Tournament. It needs a good showing for the duration of conference play and may need to win the NSIC Tournament.