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Photo by: Robby Gallagher

Volleyball season opens in Grand Forks

Courtesy: SDSU Sports Info
Release: 08/28/2013 19:37:05

The South Dakota State volleyball team kicks off the 2013 season on Friday at the North Dakota Classic against Iowa State at 11 a.m. in the first of three matches on opening weekend. The Jackrabbits follow the opener with a match against Texas A&M on Friday at 5 p.m., and then close the weekend against host North Dakota on Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Jacks played their annual Yellow and Blue scrimmage on Saturday, Aug. 24, at Frost Arena, with Team Yellow coming out with a 3-2 win. The team mixed and matched the roster, so the outcome really doesn’t matter to head coach Phil McDaniel, he just wanted to see how his young team grew over since the start of fall camp.

“I thought it went really well today, the girls are working hard, and you can tell the work we put in over the last two weeks is paying off,” McDaniel said.” I think we’re blocking the ball extremely well right now, but of course we need to see how we’re going to look against somebody else in a different uniform, and we get a chance to do that next week. I really like where we’re at. We’re young, but those young ones have done a great job of stepping in and learning on the fly.”

SDSU played the scrimmage without the services of junior outside hitter, and team captain, Margit Hansing, who suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp.  

NEXT UP FOR THE JACKRABBITS – SDSU returns to the road next weekend for three matches at the Drake Invitational in Des Moines, Iowa. The Jacks open against Eastern Illinois on Friday, and then close the tournament against DePaul and Drake on Saturday. 

THE JACKRABBIT EXTRA ON – Subscribers to the Jackrabbit Extra on can watch all SDSU home matches and select road matches streaming live on the internet.  

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THE JACKRABBIT INSIDER ON KELOLAND-TV – Fans of South Dakota State Athletics can get a weekly behind-the-scenes look at all 21 Jackrabbit varsity sports teams by tuning into "The Jackrabbit Insider.”

Hosted by Tyler Merriam, the show airs on Sundays on MyUTV at 10:30 p.m., followed by broadcasts on Sunday at 11 p.m. on KELOLAND-TV and on Fox Sports North on Tuesdays at 6 p.m.

2013 SEASON PREVIEW – The addition of Denver to The Summit League, along with the loss of Oakland and Kansas City, gives the league a new look in 2013. Along those same lines, the South Dakota State volleyball team graduated six seniors from the 2012 squad, and returns just two starters and only five players with playing experience.

A new-look team in a new-look league may seem problematic, but head coach Phil McDaniel looks at the changes as an opportunity for the Jackrabbits.

“I’m excited to see this group come together in the gym. We put together a great group of hard-working young ladies who are eager to step up to the challenge and demands of Summit League volleyball,” McDaniel said. “We’ll be a bit lighter in our roster with 13 players this season, but I expect that to translate into a tough competition for playing time, which makes the whole team better.

Although the team lost a large group of seniors, this new, and much younger group of Jackrabbits also includes a pair of redshirt freshmen and six true freshmen.

“These players all want to make immediate contributions to the program,” McDaniel said. “I want the freshmen to push one another to get the best out of each other, and that’s exactly what I expect to happen.”

Along with a new look roster, the Jackrabbit coaching staff also underwent some changes, with veteran assistant coach Angela Mooney and graduate assistant Kuulei Kabalis-Bianconi joining the staff in July.

Mooney replaces Kristin Belzung, who accepted a job at Wyoming, while Kabalis-Bianconi replaces graduate assistant Jason Ruppelt, who worked for four years as a student assistant and two years as the Jacks graduate assistant.

“Bringing Angela on staff is certainly a positive for the program, she’s brings great coaching experience, great club experience and certainly a great playing career in college,” McDaniel said. “Kuulei played in every set the last two seasons at Kansas State as a defensive specialist, and should add a new dimension to our defense.”

Not everything changed after the 2012 season; Lexi Fowler started every match last season, and returns as the lone senior on the team and obvious leader for the 2013 season.

“We need to rely heavily on Lexi as both a player and a leader this season,” McDaniel said of his senior. “We need her use her past experiences as a player and as a mentor for this young team. At the same time though, we need freshman Brooke Leetham to challenge Lexi and learn from her at the same time, which should be an experience for both players.”

Junior Margit Hansing represents the only other returning starter on the team, and with 238 kills, enters the season with more career kills than the rest of the team combined, but McDaniel sees her leading more on the defensive end.

“We need to rely on her defensive prowess and ability to handle serve receive,” he said. “All of our young hitters know how to put the ball on the floor, but we need them to hone their defensive skills, and I think emulating Margit’s game can help them adapt the speed of the college game.”

Of the six departed seniors, the Jackrabbits lost two 1,000 Kills Club members and two 1,000 Digs Club members, including all-time digs leader Shay Birath, so the 2013 team obviously comes in as a much younger and less experienced team, but still a team with plenty of potential.

“There’s no doubt that we’re a younger team this year, but I feel that we return experience at the right positions, and that we can definitely be one of the top teams in the conference,” McDaniel said of his young team. “I’m sure that we’ll see our fair share of teachable moments along the way, but I’m confident in our group’s ability to take in and process information, and then apply the lessons we learn.”


Iowa State Cyclones (0-0, 0-0 Big 12) – Ranked No. 15 in the AVCA Preseason Poll and picked to finish second in the Big 12 Preseason Poll behind defending national champion Texas, the Cyclones return a trio of starters and their libero from a 2012 team that advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinal after topping Summit League champion Fort Wayne in the first round.

In addition to the three returning starters, the Cyclones return a total of 12 players from last year’s squad that posted a 22-8 overall record and a 13-3 mark in the Big 12.

The Series vs. Iowa State – The Cyclones lead the all-time series 4-0, with the first three wins all coming in Ames, Iowa, and the last in Frost Arena on Oct. 30, 2012. 

The Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2012; Frost Arena – South Dakota State setter Sydney Howard recorded a career-high seven kills, tied a career mark with six block assists and Kaitlin Klingemann set a new career-high with eight block assists, but No. 21 Iowa State finished with a 56-33 advantage in kills in a 3-0 win at Frost Arena by the set scores of 25-22, 25-19 and 25-22.

Along with her career-high eight block assists, Klingemann led the Jackrabbit offense with nine kills. Howard got her seven kills on 10 attacks with no errors for a .700 hitting percentage. Margit Hansing led the Jacks with 14 digs, Kelly Herrmann added 12 and Shay Birath 11 digs.

Mackenzie Bigbee led the all players in the match with 13 kills. Victoria Hurtt added 12 kills in the win, while Kristen Hahn led the ISU defense with 25 digs.

Texas A&M Aggies (0-0, 0-0 SEC) – Picked to win the SEC Western Division in Preseason Coaches poll, the Aggies enter the season as one of 16 teams not in the Preseason AVCA Coaches Poll, but receiving votes.

The Aggies return two starters and 12 letterwinners from their 2012 team that posted a 25-6 overall record and won the SEC West with a 16-4 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost a 3-1 match to the eventual national champion Texas Longhorns. 

The Series vs. Texas A&M – First Meeting 

North Dakota (0-0, 0-0 Big Sky) – Picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky Preseason Coaches Poll, North Dakota enters its fifth season under head coach Ashley Hardee with all six starters and the libero from the 2012 season.

In four years at the helm of the North Dakota volleyball program, Hardee led his team to an impressive 88-33 record.

The Series vs. North Dakota – The Jackrabbits lead the all-time series 49-24 after snapping a three-match losing streak last season with a 3-0 sweep at Frost Arena.  

The Last Meeting: Sept. 4, 2012; Frost Arena – South Dakota State got 13 kills and seven blocks from Kelli Fiegen, 10 kills from Kaitlin Klingemann and both Jackrabbit middles hit over .500, as SDSU downed North Dakota in front of a spirited opening night crowd of 872 by the set scores of 25-20, 25-19 and 26-24. 

Fiegen's 13 kills came on 21 swings for a .619 hitting percentage, while Klingemann got her 10 kills on 16 attacks with two errors for an even .500 hitting percentage. As a team, the Jackrabbits hit .225 (40-13-120) and held the visitors to a .134 hitting percentage (44-27-127). In addition, the Jacks posted 13 total team blocks, compared to three from North Dakota.

Shay Birath led the SDSU defense with 14 digs, Kelly Herrmann added 11 digs to her four blocks, while Margit Hansing finished with 10 digs, seven kills and four blocks; two solo and two block assists.

Lexi Robinson and Ronni Munkeby led the visitors with 11 kills apiece. Robinson added 14 digs and Lauren Clarke led North Dakota with 15 digs.