by Adam Watts
The Dragon volleyball team will rely on chemistry and experience in its attempt to reach the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament in 2015. The experienced starting lineup features four four-year starters in Abby Wolpern, Amber Krenske, Kaitlin VanWinkle and Casie Baer. The senior quartet entered the season having played a combined 1,144 sets in their careers at MSUM.
“It’s cool that the four seniors have played basically every single match since they’ve been freshmen,” Dragons head volleyball coach Tammy Blake said. “There’s a lot of experience out there.”
Two of the seniors have experience playing together going back before their time at MSUM. Team captains Wolpern and Krenske played on the same Junior Olympic volleyball team as 17 and 18 year olds. This is their sixth year playing together and the chemistry they have built over the years is a benefit on the court.
“I know what to expect if Amber and I are playing next to each other,” said Wolpern, “I know what ball I’m going to take and I know what ball Amber’s going to take. You can tell there’s less communication errors between the people who have played together. You just get used to each other and it helps being comfortable on the court.”
The Dragons were comfortable on the court starting their season with a 4-0 record at the Oredigger Classic Sept. 4-5 in Golden, Co. MSUM tallied wins against Pace, Findlay, Midwestern State and Western Oregon. VanWinkle made the all-tournament team averaging 15.1 kills-per-match in the tournament.
“Obviously that was a good way to start the season,” Blake said. “But there’s lots of factors that can come into play such as illnesses and injuries. If we stay healthy and stay strong like that I think things will be fine and we will persevere through it if those things happen.”
The team is hoping to avoid injuries and illnesses and improve on a 2014 season that saw them post an 11-17 overall record with a 6-14 record in NSIC play. The Dragons finished the 2014 season ranked 12 out of 16 teams in the conference. They are ranked 10 in the pre-season coach’s poll for 2015. They will have to finish better than that if they are going to achieve their goal of making the eight-team NSIC tournament at the end of the year.
“I think if we can get into that conference tournament it would be fun to see what we could do there,” Wolpern said. “I think at that point in the season – we saw last year with Southwest, they weren’t even in the top five and they ended up going to the conference championship. Once you get in there anything can happen and I’d like to see what would happen.”
The Dragons prepared themselves to play in what Blake said is “the toughest league in the nation,” by playing Division 1 opponents North Dakota State and Minnesota in the spring. The experience of playing the D1 teams already paid off in the first game of the season.
“Playing tough competition gives you a mental edge going into the games that you play,” Blake said. “The first set out against Pace we did not play up to our ability. And you can tell the team, ‘listen, you played the University of Minnesota. This team is not even close to that.’”