After four weekends of traveling across the country, the USD women’s volleyball team is coming home.
Or, they’re at least competing at home.
Finally, they can sleep in their own beds the night before games and once again, the Coyotes will serve in the presence of their home fans.
And after closing tournament play with a 2-1 performance at Purdue and knocking off Notre Dame and Ball State, the timing is right.
“We still haven’t peaked. No coach right now wants to come to practice and say, ‘This is as good as we’re going to get,’ ” head coach Leanne Williamson said. “We are so ready to be home and continually improve in front of our own fans. Four weeks of travel is a lot for all of our girls.”
The Coyotes (6-7) return home Friday against Western Illinois, their first conference opponent of the season. Opening serve for Friday’s home opener is scheduled for 5 p.m. in the DakotaDome.
Western Illinois (2-12) has been labeled a “scrappy team” by USD players and coaches. Plus, the Coyotes expect the Leathernecks to play extremely hard for their new coach.
But there’s one advantage the Coyotes are expecting to walk into Friday’s match with.
“Having all of our fans getting to come and support us is definitely going to be a booster,” senior Kelsey Biltoft said. “For once, we’ll be warming up with the fans on our side.”
The Coyotes have been facing road opponents throughout September’s tournament play.
This weekend at Purdue, they played the 22-ranked team in the nation on their home floor.
Williamson said she feels the Coyotes could have even pulled out game one against the Boilermakers. Eventually, the team lost in three sets, but the weekend turned around Saturday.
USD strung together two knitty-gritty, five-set performances against Notre Dame and following up against Ball State.
Williamson said she was impressed that her team played clean volleyball – and sometimes their best volleyball – in those fifth sets.
“Coming home with two wins against two programs that are well-known and that people can relate us to is great,” Williamson said. “We never gave up, and there were some great performances individually. Overall, we are very happy coming home.”
Senior Sydney Dimke said the weekend at Purdue was a big momentum booster for her team.
“Summit League play is exciting and still challenging,” Dimke said. “It’s exciting that we were able to see what we can do when we play well.”
Dimke has stepped up as the team’s bona fide on-court leader this year. She was impressed with the individual performances of young players such as setter Brittany Jessen, first-year libero Lauren Mattison and first-year outside hitter Hayley Dotseth.
She was especially impressed with their play despite the adversity of a five-set match.
“Five-set matches are scary,” Dimke said. “Sometimes they’re three hours long, and you work that hard just to lose. It hurts worse if you lose in five. I’m so glad we were able to prove that it doesn’t phase us going into a five-set match.”
The team’s success in the five-set matches also fulfills some season-long expectations the Coyotes have for themselves – a nice pat-on-the-back before the heart of conference play begins.
“One of our goals coming into the season is to never lose the fifth set. Obviously we never want to be in a fifth set, if possible,” Biltoft said. We stayed true to that goal, and it will definitely relax us if we ever have to come to another five setter.”
(Photo: Junior Haley Jorgenson splits the block of her teammates during scout team versus starters practice scrimmage. The Coyotes ended their tournament season with two wins at Purdue over the weekend. USD begins conference play Friday in the DakotaDome against Western Illinois. Mollie Bertrand / The Volante)