WSC heads to St. Paul for national tournament


The WSC Wildcat volleyball team has been selected as the seventh seed in the DII National Tournament, held in St. Paul, Minn. The Lady ‘Cats will face off against second seed Southwest Minnesota State, which WSC has met twice this season. The Mustangs went 3-0 last Saturday (Sept. 17) both in regular season play and in the NSIC Tournament semi-finals.

Joseph Lovercheck, Staff Writer

Wayne State’s volleyball team is headed to the NCAA Division II national tournament for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

“I’m extremely proud of our team,” Head Coach Scott Kneifl said. “The hard part is to get into this tournament. It’s an extremely tough grind to go through the preseason and the regular season, winning the games you are supposed to win and knock off some teams that maybe you are not supposed to, to earn a right to play in this tournament. I feel grateful and lucky, but really proud of our team.”

The Wildcats join five other teams from the NSIC in the Central Regional, including Nebraska-Kearney.

“It’s crazy. It is absolutely craziness,” Kneifl said. “To think there are that many quality teams, and more. There are so many more. There are a few other ranked teams in our conference that didn’t get into the regionals. It is the toughest league in Division II, bar none.”

The Wildcats will travel to St. Paul, Minn., to take on No. 2-seeded Southwest Minnesota State for the third time this season. The Mustangs won the matchup during the regular season, as well as during the semi-finals of the NSIC conference tournament.

WSC started the postseason with a victory against Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NSIC conference tournament.

The Wildcats rallied back from a two-set deficit to take the match 3-2.

“I thought we played great,” Kneifl said. “Any time you fight back from an oh-two deficit, and we were down 12-7 in the fifth, it shows a lot about the character of our team. I think our (team) dug in deep and found a way to get it done, and it was an extremely exciting win.”

During the first set, there were 11 ties and four lead changes. With the score tied at 18, Duluth rallied off five straight points, taking a 23-18 lead. The Bulldogs took the first set, 25-20.

WSC got out to an early lead in the second set, 5-1. The ‘Cats saw that lead slip away when Duluth took a 10-9 lead, forcing a WSC timeout. The last tie of the second set came at 11 apiece. The Wildcats saw the host Bulldogs secure the victory, 25-20.

During the third set, the ‘Cats stepped up their blocking. Leading 14-13, Wayne State scored the next five points. During the rest of the set, WSC didn’t let the lead be cut to less than three, taking the third, 25-20.

The fourth set was again close, with 10 ties. The Wildcats scored five of six points to take a 19-14 lead late in the set. WSC forced a fifth set, 25-20.

Trailing 12-7, WSC clawed back into the match, eventually tying the set at 12.

“Our season was on the brink. We had three points left to go in our season,” Kneifl said. “If we lose that game, our season is over. We’re not playing right now.”
The Wildcats got to match point at 14-12, and won the fifth set in dramatic fashion, 15-13.

The ‘cats moved on to face the second-seeded Southwest Minnesota State (SMSU) Mustangs.

“We were kind of out of sorts,” Kneifl said. “We had trouble getting there, we had to go up the day of because of bus situations. No excuses. Southwest played extremely well. When they play at the top of their game, there aren’t very many teams that can beat them right now.

“That being said, we really feel like we are one of those teams that can beat them, we just have to play really, really well.”

The Mustangs came out hot, posting a .480 hitting percentage in the first set. The Wildcats fell in the first set, 25-12.

The second set featured 15 ties and six lead changes. The ‘Cats tied the set at 9-9 early. WSC took the lead at 13-12 in the second set. The teams were knotted up at 24 when the Mustangs used a pair of kills to finish the set 26-24.

SMSU built an early lead and never looked back in the third set. WSC got within two at 20-18, but could not get closer. The Mustangs closed out the 3-0 victory 25-21.

“We prepared this week with different things,” Kneifl said. “We feel that we can attack their defense and hopefully limit their offense a little bit. Really we just have to take care of the ball on our side of the net. If we execute what we need to do, everything else will fall into place.”

The ‘Cats have a record of 24-7 heading into the DII National tournament, where they will face the second-seeded Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs.

“We are going to try and play as relaxed as we possibly can,” Kneifl said. “The tough part, we feel, is over. The tough part is making the tournament, this is the fun part. We have to go out and enjoy it and obviously we have to peak at the right time.”