Wildcat Volleyball Rewrites School History with a New Season Best

John Campbell, Sports Editor

After the game against Bemidji State University on Sept. 30, the Wayne State Volleyball team recorded their 17th straight win of the season, breaking the school record for the best start in program history.  But they did not stop there. Following Friday’s match against BSU, the Wildcats returned to the Rice gymnasium on Saturday Oct. 1 to obtain another victory against the University of Minnesota Crookston, furthering the record to 18-0. 

However, the road to success has not been easy for the Wildcats. “We got left out of the NCAA Tournament last year, after having an impressive recorded with wins against top 25 teams,” Head Coach Scott Kneifl said.  

However, that would not be the case this year. The Wildcats have the highest Rating Percentage Index (RPI) in Division II volleyball because of the strength of their schedule.   

The team has played in five games against the top 25 teams. The result- four match sweeps against top ten teams and one three-two match against formally ranked No.12 team West Texas A&M in the Colorado Premiere tournament, where the Wildcats were crowned tournament champions.  

“I think all teams can say they don’t like losing, and after losing [to Kansas State University in a preseason exhibition match three-two] we felt like we had something to prove,” Senior Libero Jessie Brandl said. 

The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference houses five of the top ten teams in the AVCA DII coaches’ poll, with Wayne State at the top for the third week in a row.  

The Wildcats are joined in the top ten ranks by No. 3 University of Concordia St. Paul, No. 4 St. Cloud State, No. 7 Southwest Minnesota State and No. 9 University of Minnesota Duluth.  

“All of the girls are like sisters to me,” Brandl said. “It’s all about trust, building relationships and friendships on and off the court.” 

A week ago, the Cats went on a road trip to visit No. 4 St. Cloud Huskies and the No. 9 ranked Duluth Bulldogs. The athletes did what they do best, giving both teams their first and only loss of the season – in their own houses.  

“Our players take it to heart when getting heckled at away games,” Kneifl said. “They want to represent Wayne State the best they can [and] it got quiet when we were up two sets.” 

The Wildcat Volleyball team has climbed the ranks. In preseason, the team was ranked No. 17 in the nation. Just three weeks later, they reached the No. 1 spot.  

“Being ranked first for the third week in a row feels great, but we know we still have a lot of work to do,” Wildcat setter Rachel Walker, said. 

In that time, another milestone was reached. Kneifl notched his 400th career win. In his 18 seasons with the Wildcats, he has had many successes, appearing in the NCAA Tournament 11 times, a NCAA Reginal Tournament Championship, a National Semifinal appearance and a NSIC Tournament Championship.  

Under Kneifl’s guidance are 12 extraordinary athletes. “#ThePowerOf12 is a motto we came up with in preseason,” Walker said. “12 is not a typical roster size. Normally, you find 14-16 players. We knew this group was special and we have exactly the right people, so we really wanted to buy into the idea that it takes all of us to be where we want to be in the end.” 

Furthermore, the team has amassed notable stats so far this season. Leading the team in assists, No. 14 Rachel Walker has recorded 650 assists in 2022. Following an assist comes the kill. No. 11 Kelsie Cada has recorded 217 kills and sophomore Taya Beller has delivered 235 kills.  

Beller also earned the title of the Gamechanger/Division II Volleyball Player of the Week after her performances in Duluth and St. Cloud Minnesota. During the weekend, Beller recorded 29 kills and 10 blocks with a .463 hitting percentage, putting her at No. 7 in Division II for overall hitting percentage. 

The Wildcats are pushing through to the latter half of the season. They will eventually match up against nationally ranked Concordia St. Paul and face Augustana University, who has received votes in national polls, twice.  

The team will hit the road this weekend to face Northern State University on Friday, Oct. 7, then turn around on Saturday to face Minnesota State University Moorhead.  

Following that, the Wildcats return home to Rice to play the University of Mary and Minot State. After those games, the Wildcats have six games to go until the NSIC Conference Tournament begins.