Over the past year and a half, the challenges brought on by the pandemic has proven to be difficult beyond imagine. Programs at the college level searching for a way to get back on the field or court some failing to get there.
But as we enter the fall of 2021, the sport of college volleyball is starting to look a little bit more normal.
For programs like Bismarck State College and the University of Mary, they’re ready to play games that matter in front of a home crowd once again.
Over the last week, the gyms across the state have the familiar sound: the bounce of a ball and the cheering of teammates, that especially at the BSC Armory.
The Mystics coming off of a four-and-a-half-month break from last season, a quick turnaround for any program.
“Ending in April, we didn’t really have a lot of down time,” says head coach Kyle Keuther. “Basically we went right from coaching to some summer planning.”
The sense of the unknown no longer lingers ahead of this volleyball season.
Players relieved to think about things closer to the sport they were recruited to play.
“It’s more exciting because you kind of know what is ahead,” says sophomore Abbi Kopp. “I mean, last year, we had no idea if we we’re going to have practice next week or tomorrow even. So I mean knowing that we have a season, we have our schedule, we have stuff set up, it’s just more exciting and it makes you want to work for it a little bit more.”
For the Mystics, a lot of new faces make up this 2021 fall roster.
One returning player will be Macy Westch, who will look to make an impact on the outside as she replaces an all-region player like Becca Nitsch.
It was awesome to get to play with her,” says sophomore Macy Wetsch. “I definitely learned a lot. I think she’s a very smart player. She always knew where to place the ball. I think that’s kind of my plan going into it. Just be smart about where to place the ball.”
The hallmark of a BSC lead offense, but the Mystics say they can’t wait to ditch the cardboard cutouts for a more lively bunch in the stands.
“After I get a dig or something, it’s almost a little bit silent,” says Kopp. “You go and look at the paper posters in the bleachers and you’re like this is not the same. I know last year we had the baseball team come and we played better than ever have before. It was awesome and it was so much fun”
Across town, the UMary Marauders didn’t have the luxury of playing a full season in the spring. Just a few scrimmages, a disappointing outcome for players who sat and waited for an opportunity.
“I mean, overall, it sounds like they had a lot of positives going out of the spring season,” says head coach Abby Pollart. “They came out with some solid wins that helped propel us into this season here. We just wanted to set a huge tone of who are we and what are we going to be and then committing to that. And we gave them a lot of ownership night one in our team meeting of, laying it out, this is who we want to be and these are the goals we want to achieve and then now how do we do that”
UMary enters 2021 as a young team, just a few upperclassmen make up the roster.
Fifth-year Natalia Cruz is taking advantage of another year of eligibility and says she playing for her teammates.
“We have nothing to lose,” says senior Natalia Cruz. “Last year, we were definitely disappointed, so this year it’s just how bad do we want it. Every single day we come in and we remember why we’re here and it’s just having more gratitude each drill, each practice.”
Another player is Kennedy Drewis, a transfer from Iowa Western before the 2020 year, she has waited a long time to get on the court, and knows this season will be a learning curve.
“It’s really new to all of us,” says junior Kennedy Drewis. “So we’re really working on being more comfortable about being uncomfortable. So I think we’re all just grinding super hard and we are very excited for this season because we are the underdogs this year and so we’re just planning on playing like we have nothing to lose.”
With fans set to return in the fall, these players hope to bring the noise and the wins to a season that has been a long time coming.
“It’s kind of like the emotions of kids on Christmas morning right now,” says Pollart. “We’re bubbly, we’re in the gym, the energy is great and so I look for that to continue through that homestand there and for that to be a big thing for us.”
For Bismarck State, their season opens up on Aug. 25 on the road at Williston State before hosting a weekend-long tournament starting on the 27.
As for UMary, they will play a few tournaments before opening up NSIC play on Sept. 17 when they travel to take on Minnesota Mankato.