Stacked region provides tall task for WSC volleyball

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Austin Svehla, Staff Writer

The WSC volleyball team certainly has their work cut out for them this season, playing in a talent-loaded part of the country. There are excellent volleyball teams across the NSIC and DII Central Region. The Wildcats have already squared off against some of these teams and will face more during the remainder of their season.

The NSIC has made its presence known nationally, with four schools ranked in the latest top 25 AVCA Division II Poll released on Monday. These schools include Concordia-St. Paul (1), Northern State (3), Minnesota Duluth (5), and Southwest Minnesota State (12). WSC has spent a majority of the season amongst the top 25 nationally and was ranked 18th after the Sept. 17 poll was released. Of the teams not ranked in the most recent AVCA Poll, the Wildcats garnished the most votes with 91.

“We know we’re going to get a quality opponent every time we step on the floor,” said head coach Scott Kneifl. “So whether they’re ranked or not, we know there’s a chance it’s going to be a grind every match.”

Such a tough schedule results in extreme difficulty to hold up a trophy when the year is finished, but helps the team play at their highest level when the end of the season approaches.

“I really feel like if we were in a different league, that we might have more accolades, more conference championships, things like that, but I don’t think the finished product of our team would be as good,” Kneifl said.

The conference tournament begins on Nov. 6, and the top eight teams from the NSIC qualify to compete for the tournament crown.

“You have to somehow find a way to make the conference tournament,” Kneifl said. “It’s whoever gets hot and it’s not going to be easy for any team to make it.”

If the Wildcats play well enough throughout the remainder of the season and their conference tournament, they will compete in the NCAA DII Central Region Tournament. The Central Region is made up of three conferences: the NSIC, MIAA, and GAC. Not only do the Wildcats compete against tough conference opponents, but their region is loaded with top-tier teams as well. Eight schools, including the four from the NSIC, are currently nationally ranked. The others include Nebraska-Kearney (4), Washburn (13), Central Missouri (17), and Central Oklahoma (18).

The winner of each of these conference tournaments receives an automatic bid to compete in the regional tournament, with the remaining five spots being filled by at-large selections.

Athletic Director Mike Powicki acknowledges the difficulty of competing against top-tier teams but also enjoys watching the Wildcats win against top volleyball schools.

“You go from having the most difficult conference in the country in volleyball to expanding that and playing in definitely the most difficult region in the country,” Powicki said. “The running joke is that if you want to see the true National Championship of the tournament, you’ve just got to come to the NCAA Central Region Tournament.”

WSC has already played against Central Oklahoma, Concordia-St. Paul, and Southwest Minnesota State and will brace for Minnesota Duluth, Northern State, and a second match with Concordia-St. Paul among other formidable opponents in the coming weeks.

It takes a committed group of coaches and athletes to compete at a high level in the NSIC, and Wayne State is lucky to have individuals who put forth a quality product year in and year out.

“I definitely think it starts with coach [Scott] Kneifl,” Powicki said. “He’s been here for a duration of our success. His connections within the state certainly helped jump-start the program and really help bring in the best talent. He and [assistant coach] Kim DePew have shown the ability to develop that talent.”

A competitive nature and commitment to make improvements provides the WSC volleyball team an opportunity to achieve great success and provides fans the luxury of watching high-level competition every match.