The first weekend of the season was a welcomed wake-up call for the University of South Dakota volleyball team.
The team traveled across the state into Wyoming to face some of their most stiff competition of the regular season and came away empty handed. But both players and coaches said early-season rust reveals a lot of holes that can be fixed before the conference season.
“None of us wanted to come back over the weekend 0-3, but we knew it was going to be a challenging weekend. But we scheduled it for a reason,” head coach Leanna Williamson said. “We can be more targeted in practice now. We know what works and what doesn’t.”
The Coyotes opened the weekend Aug. 28 with a 0-3 loss to Butler University, who flexed their offensive muscles and out-hit USD nearly 20 percent more efficiently.
The Coyotes bounced back to play two tough sets against Wyoming but were unable to claim a set. They eventually lost to Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State on Aug. 29 in straight sets.
“The teams we saw this week were much bigger than the teams we see in the Summit League,” junior Audrey Reeg said. “We’re still trying to see how far we can push ourselves, but this weekend was a good test.”
Although they were unable to claim even a set, the Coyotes saw flashes of greatness against Wyoming.
Reeg was named to the all-tournament team, and sophomore Brittany Jessen followed a 22-assist performance against Wyoming with 23 assists against Ohio State.
The individual play was encouraging, Williamson said. But the young team is still struggling with remaining consistent for a full game.
“We did some good things. We even had full games where we pushed some good teams,” Williamson said. “We saw streaks where we were unstoppable at points. As a coach, we look at that and think ‘That’s who we’re supposed to be.’ ”
Both Reeg and Jessen said consistency is the buzzword of the weekend. With a team who is still learning to replace a trio of senior leaders from 2014, learning to string together consistent play for 25 points is a challenge.
“We have to focus on consistency throughout. That’s how we’re going to peak at the end of the season,” Jessen said. “Volleyball is such a game of momentum. One team gets on a run and brings the other team down. It’s hard to stay up at a steady level. Consistency is a good goal for anybody.”
The Coyotes are scheduled for their second tournament this weekend in Arizona. USD travels to Tucson and opens competition against Arizona University on Friday at 8 p.m.
(Photo: Sophomore Brittany Jessen goes for the kill during a 2014 game in the DakotaDome. The Coyotes lost three games this weekend in Wyoming. File Photo / The Volante)