Host Wildcats Open with the Harding University Bisons

Nate Bope, Sports Writer

The Wayne State College women’s volleyball team will open their run to a Division II National Title against the Harding University Bisons.  

This marks the first time the Wildcats have made the NCAA regional tournament since 2016. The Wildcats received the number one seed for the Central Region. The Harding Bisons are the region’s eight seed. 

The expectations heading into the national tournament are high for WSC. They are one of the favorites to make a deep run in this year’s tournament. They enter the tournament coming off a historic season, starting the year 24-0, their best start in program history, while only losing seven sets through those first 24 games. The Wildcats would suffer their only loss of the regular season to the then fifth ranked Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in five sets.  

The Wildcats finished off the regular season with a 29-1 record and claimed the regular season conference championship. However, they lost eight sets in their final six games, two sets more than what they gave up through their 24-game win streak.  

The Wildcats entered the NSIC Tournament as one of the conference favorites, but a surprise performance from the eight seed Augustana Vikings bounced WSC from the tournament earlier than expected, losing in a five-set thriller. 

The Wildcats are led by a trio of phenomenal hitters in Taya Beller, Kelsie Cada and Maggie Brahmer. Each of them has over 300 kills on the season, with Beller leading the way with 426, Cada second with 371, and Brahmer not far behind with 360.  

As a team, the Wildcats have an impressive .285% hitting percentage. Libero Jessie Brandl leads the way in digs with 447 on the year. The Wildcats are not a team that dig a lot of balls. They are about even with their opponents this year in total digs. Yet this team is great at blocking their opponents’ attacks. The Wildcats have 392 team blocks and 56 individual blocks on the year. 

The Wildcats’ opponent is not your typical eight seed. The Harding University Bisons are back in the field of 64 for the first time since 2018, where they were the eight seed again and pulled off an upset over the one seed Lopers from University of Nebraska-Kearney. 

The Bisons finished with a record of 30-1 and were Great American Conference regular season and tournament champions. They only lost 16 sets all year and rolled through their conference tournament. The Bisons’ lone loss came to the Barry University Buccaneers, who finished as the three seed in the South Regional bracket.   

Harding are led by their six-foot senior middle back Kelli McKinnon. She leads the Bisons attacking efforts with 348 kills this season. Her teammate and outside hitter Logan Smith is behind her with 305 kills. Harding has lots of players that can dig the volleyball. Senior defensive specialist Emma Winiger leads the way with 510 digs, and behind her are six teammates that have at least 100 digs on the year.  

As with being the region’s top seed, the Wildcats will be hosting every game that takes place in the regional tournament. The regional is set to take place at Rice Auditorium Friday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Nov. 20. The Wildcats and Bisons are set to play at 7:30 PM on Friday night.  

Other opening round matchups in the Central Regional include the three seed Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs against the six seed and Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Tournament Champions Washburn Ichabods slated for 12 p.m., the two seed Concordia St. Paul Golden Bears and seven seed Nebraska-Kearney Lopers are slated for 2:30 p.m., and the 5 p.m. game is between the four seed Northwest Missouri State Bearcats and the five seed and NSIC Tournament Champions St. Cloud State Huskies.