College volleyball: Viterbo women navigate a difficult schedule with a young team | local university

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Following a 39-2 season is a daunting challenge in itself, especially when a team graduates three All-Americans and loses its assist leader.

For Viterbo women’s volleyball coach Ryan DeLong, the only way he knows how to get his young 2022 team up to speed is by lining up one of the toughest schedules in the country, something he does year after year.

The V-Hawks’ first 11 games this year include six against nationally ranked opponents, and so far a 10-strong roster has responded to adversity.

Viterbo went 3-1 in their first four games of the season at the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge in Butte, Mont. last week, defeating 12th-ranked Eastern Oregon University and 13th-ranked tournament host Montana Technological University.

This week, the 9th-ranked V-Hawks travel to St. Louis for the Spartan Invitational to play the reigning two-time NAIA National Champion and top-ranked Missouri Baptist University, as well as Midland University. (Nebraska) No. 5, the only one in Viterbo. loss in the regular season a year ago.

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“These early preseason tournaments are always something you’re trying to learn and get better at and trying to find new roles,” DeLong said. “Obviously (the team) improves throughout the year, but we have a lot of big shoes to fill, so these first few weeks are definitely learning periods for our team.”

While the V-Hawks lost several key players from a 2021 team that broke the school record with a 32-game winning streak and fell one game away from the NAIA championship, two local players who earned All-American honors last season they return.

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Holmen High School product and junior outside hitter Kenzie Winker is already off to a flying start in her fourth year at Viterbo, leading the team in kills with 55 in four games. In the V-Hawks’ five-set win over Northwestern University (Washington) on Friday, Winker totaled 23 kills for a .447 batting percentage and also recorded 11 digs.

As V-Hawk’s primary offensive option for the first time in his career, DeLong said he has seen Winker grow as a leader during his time at Viterbo.

“From her freshman year to now, she’s really become a strong mental player, and I wouldn’t have said that last year or two years ago,” DeLong said. “Her mental game of hers has improved tremendously.”

Defensively, Adrianna Reinhart, a fifth-year student and native of Caledonia, Minnesota, commands the back row after earning an honorable mention selection to the NAIA All-American team last season. Serving as the team’s libero, Reinhart’s 59 through passes and 8 aces are the most in both categories for Viterbo this year.

DeLong said Reinhart, along with second-year defensive specialist Kenidi McCabe, will help guide his youth roster with their skills in serving and passing play.

“Adrianna is huge for us with her experience as a fifth-year player and being the leader the last two years,” DeLong said. “That has to be our strength from the beginning, our serving and passing, because we have to bring our young players up to speed in other aspects.”

Of the six newcomers to the team, four are front-row players and two setter. Freshman middle hitter Jada Mitchell contributed 18 spikes in the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge, and freshman setter Maddie Connor is second on the team with 52 assists.

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DeJong said his team has almost taken for granted facing the best of the best every year, but for a rebuilding team that needs to develop its talent, matchups against two top-five teams this week will be a big test early in the season. the season.

“It doesn’t let you get too comfortable, that’s for sure,” DeLong said. “We are going to take some bumps on the road early with a young team, but I think it will be a great experience for us in November and December.”

Andrew Polk can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @apolk17