Sep. 16—The Dakota Wesleyan volleyball team is off to one of its best starts in team history, winning 11 of its first 12 matches.
None of those were bigger than a three-set sweep of No. 8-ranked Northwestern College on Wednesday night, among the most notable home wins in Lindsay Wilber's eight years as head coach.
DWU's first 11 matches were on the road and Wednesday was their first match at home since Oct. 30, 2020.
DWU played in the Christen Family Athletic Center on campus Wednesday, which is where the Tigers plan to play all of their matches in 2021 after splitting time with the Corn Palace in past seasons. The university installed a new floor in the gym and repositioned it to the center of the arena. The team was ecstatic about finally playing a true home match.
"I think it felt pretty amazing for all of us to play at home," DWU middle blocker Ady Dwight said. "Last year, playing in the Corn Palace, because of COVID-19, the atmosphere was really spread out and it wasn't as loud. (On Wednesday), the gym was packed, it was loud and exciting the whole time."
The Tigers have proven their abilities in non-conference matches in recent years but play in the Great Plains Athletic Conference is where DWU is looking to show the most improvement. Since 2018, DWU is 41-4 against non-GPAC opponents and 17-31 against GPAC opponents. Wilber believes the GPAC competition has made them used to high-level competition and that makes playing non-conference opponents easier.
"Our volleyball conference in the GPAC is insane," Wilber said. "When we play non-conference matches, we can beat them. They're good, too, but we're so used to playing at such a high-level in our conference, when we go play some of these non-conference teams, it's just different."
Currently, six GPAC teams are ranked in the top-25 in the country, including No. 1 Midland, No. 2 Jamestown and No. 5 Dordt. Aside from the Red Raiders, the College of St. Mary is 17th and Concordia is No. 19. DWU is currently ranked as the second-best team outside the top-25, looking to get into the coaches' poll rankings for the first time in its current format in school history.
DWU returns every player from last season except defensive specialist Sara Herman. Wilber said this team is filled with athletes and nearly having the exact same team as last season is great for them.
"They've played together all last year through the pandemic so they know each other and having the GPAC freshman of the year on the team helps," Wilber said of Dwight. "She has been really good for us so far."
Dwight led the Tigers in kills (241) and blocks (81) last season. She ranked fourth in the conference in total blocks and was sixth in the GPAC with 3.1 kills per set. Through 12 games this season, Dwight has 168 kills and 42 blocks.
Wilber said having Dwight alongside Mackenzie Miller and Mariah Gloe has made this team more balanced.
"The way we're better than we were a couple years ago is that we are more balanced," Wilber said. "We're just super-athletic. I wouldn't say we're the most skilled volleyball team, but we're really athletic and when you watch us, you'll see that defensively we're really good, we're really good passers and volleyball is a sport where you have to have cohesion and all be working on the court for the same goal or it just falls apart. I think that's a big part of this group."
DWU hosts York at 7 p.m. on Friday, followed up with a home GPAC matchup against Morningside at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18.