Volleyball aims to ‘win as a team’ as conference play begins
The Augustana volleyball team finished 18-11 last year. Solid, but in Division II’s best conference, there was room for improvement.
Namely, five-set matches.
Last year’s Vikings lost all five of their matches that went the distance. With a win in just a couple of those, Augustana may have found itself advancing much further in the postseason.
Improving in five-set matches was obviously a focus heading into the current season.
Augustana began the season 7-1, with three of those wins being decided in the fifth set.
Those three wins came in a span of 28 hours.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Vikings head coach Dan Meske. “Fifth sets are a really good opportunity to look in the mirror and find out a lot about yourself. It was really cool to see the resiliency we have.”
Augustana opened the season at the Lewis University Flyer Festival in Romeoville, Ill. The Vikings won their first match over Wisconsin-Parksdale in five sets, then capped the weekend with two additional five-set victories to finish the tournament 4-0.
“It’s just kind of been our mentality of, ‘we don’t want to lose,’” senior middle blocker Kelsey Kaufmann said. “We’ve just found it within ourselves to go for the win. We might not out-stat them, but we’re going to out-fight them, that’s for sure.”
Junior middle blocker Bailey Koch agrees.
“It says a lot about our team this year,” said Koch. “We have a lot of fight in us. Last year, I don’t know that we had all that.”
Koch also said that not many NSIC teams have had a five-set match yet, which will give Augustana an advantage as conference play begins this week.
In a conference that has each of the country’s top-four teams and two others in the top-10 (AVCA Coaches Poll), the No. 20 Vikings will need any advantage they can get.
Those six teams are the same six schools that finished ahead of Augustana last year, and Meske said it’ll take a lot more than a few early-season five-set wins to upset the balance of power in the Northern Sun.
“It’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be a dogfight,” he said. “But it’s all about building our program as good as we can make it. If we start chasing other programs, we’re always gonna be behind.”
Meske wrote a goal on the team’s whiteboard near the beginning of the season: “Win the next point.”
“We always want to have that mentality: What are we doing to win the next point?” Meske said. “Even when we don’t have a match until Friday and it’s Monday morning, we’re still working to win the next point of the next match that we play.”
That goal fits Meske’s “total team effort” mindset. The Vikings are strong at every position, and they have two players, Tahlyr Banks and Ashley Wilson, who made an All-NSIC team last year. Augustana also has two Division I transfers on the team in Hanna Justesen (George Washington) and Courtney Place (North Dakota).
But Meske said Augustana volleyball wins as a team, not by individual efforts.
“Before we break down a huddle, we always say, ‘Us always,” Meske said. “That’s been a theme since last year, and it really rings true this year. … It is a total team effort. That makes it really satisfying. Everybody has a role.”
Kaufmann did an interview with goaugie.com prior to the season, and in it she said something that, although it fits with the team’s midnset, her teammates have since refused to let her forget.
“I think I was trying to say camaraderie and fellowship,” Kaufmann said with a laugh. “That’s kind of how our team is. Our team is very cohesive. We’re all just one big family.”
Augustana’s only loss came to No. 9 Winona State on Saturday. Kaufmann said the loss showed the Vikings haven’t yet reached their goals.
“I think it was a great preview for what our conference is,” she said. “A preview of what we have to be ready for. It was just kind of an eye-opener of what we need to focus on.”
Koch sees a silver lining from the loss.
“Our team is still going to grow so much,” she said. “It’s nice that we aren’t peaking in the beginning of our season.”