No. 13 North Dakota State College of Science kicked off the 2019 season in style with a pair of 3-0 sweeps over Mayville State JV and Central Lakes College on Wednesday at Ed Werre Arena with familiar faces leading the way.
Sophomore Gabby Hahn finished the night with 21 kills and classmate Lexi Hansch handed out 43 assists. Hahn, who was an All-American as a freshman and Hansch are both on pace to finish their careers top-5 in NDSCS history for kills and assists respectively.
Fellow sophomore Elizabeth Lyons added a pair of solo blocks and six block assists in two matches.
But what stood out on Wednesday, was the Wildcats balance and impressive debuts by freshmen.
Miah Gessell finished with 20 kills in her two matches. Ally Gruber also showed some offensive prowess with six kills against CLC. Freshman setter Annika Frost dished out 24 assists.
“Everyone is going to key on Gabby and she’s knows that, but other people stepping up was huge,” said NDSCS coach Jane Passa. “I was proud of our freshmen. I think we were very balanced tonight.”
Defensively the Wildcats put together an impressive performance, led by freshman Katie Krieger.
The libero recorded 22 digs in game one and added 13 more in game two. Krieger has been tasked with replacing Tatum Pickar, who signed with South Dakota State following an All-Mon-Dak and All-Region season where she finished with 878 digs.
Krieger proved that she’s a more than capable replacement on Wednesday.
“I’m very proud of her effort,” said Passa. “She played tremendous; she’s a gamer and it showed. It was impressive that she didn’t doubt herself going into tonight. Katie filled the position very well and she’ll only get better with experience.”
Gessell added 23 digs of her own, validating a solid debut on both sides of the net for the Sartell, Minnesota native.
The win marked the Wildcats ninth-straight home victory dating back to last season, with 27 of their last 30 games at Werre Arena ending in wins.
NDSCS will now prepare to hit the road for the first time this season, as they travel to Norfolk, Nebraksa for the NECC Tournament. The Wildcats will play games against No. 4 Kirkwood, No. 11 Northeast and No. 21 Central (Neb.).
Kirkwood advanced to the Final Four last year. Northeast ended the Wildcats season last year in the NJCAA National Tournament before falling to eventual national champion Coffeyville in the Elite Eight.
It’s not lost on Passa or her team just how big this weekend is regardless of how early in the season the match-ups are occurring.
The longtime coach is excited to have her team tested by some of the best programs in the nation.
“They know this weekend is big, but until they see it, they won’t really understand the level,” said Passa. “Gabby and Lexi have been tremendous leaders in helping prepare them for how high the competition will be in Iowa. We’re excited to see how we stack up.
“Many of our kids have played major club volleyball so they’ve been in these kinds of games. It’ll be fun for them to compete in that kind of environment.”
NDSCS will play McCook CC on Friday at 3:00 p.m. followed by a date with Central later that evening (7 p.m.).