Isabel Pheifer — Staff Writer
The Dordt University Women’s Volleyball team entered the 2022 season ranked in the top 25 in the NAIA Women’s Volleyball Coaches’ Poll and have not left the top 25 since.
In the preseason rankings, the Defenders came in holding the number 24 spot. A part of the stacked Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), the Defenders were one of the seven GPAC teams ranked in the top 25 in the initial polling. Dordt has 11 scheduled matches against teams ranked in the preseason poll.
The Defenders are currently sitting with a 12-5 record overall and a 6-3 conference record. The majority of their losses have come against other nationally ranked teams, with a few of them being in the top 10. In the latest poll, the Defenders held the number 12 spot.
“We’ve shown up in big ways and pushed those top ranked teams,” senior middle blocker Brenna Krommendyk said.
The Defenders have battled hard, even in their defeats. A loss against the number eight team in the nation and conference foe, Northwestern, on Sept. 10 took a long night of back and forth play and all five sets to come to a decision. Dordt dropped the first two sets 23- 25 and 19-25, but they pushed their way back into the game in the third set. After taking the third set 25-20 and stealing the fourth set 25- 22, the Defenders forced a fifth and final set. In the end, the Raiders proved victorious, but the game showed the will and determination of this scrappy Defender team.
“We’ve had so many changes this season, from injuries to lineup changes,” said senior middle blocker Ellie Voss. “But we’ve just had to push through, adjust, and roll with things with a positive attitude.”
The Defenders suffered another tough loss on Sept. 24 against the number six ranked Concordia Bulldogs. The first match started out competitive, trading points for the majority of the set. Dordt dropped the set 21-25 and could not seem to make up the momentum lost after that. The early runs and high kill efficiency by the Bulldogs proved to be too much for the Defenders who were struggling at the net. The Bulldogs handled the Defenders in the next two matches and walked away with a 3-0 sweep.
The latest loss came on Oct. 1 against the number 18 College of Saint Mary Flames. The Defenders jumped out to a 4-0 lead but could not hang onto it. The Flames worked their way up, eventually tying the set at 17 and finishing it 25-20 over the Defenders. After the loss in the first set, the Defenders fell flat and were unable to gain any speed. The Flames, who caught fire in the second set, stole a 3-0 win from the higher-ranked Defenders.
Despite the tough losses, the Defenders have continued to move up in the national rankings with each new poll released. Starting ranked 24, then 23, leaping all the way to 14, and landing at 12 in the latest poll, the Defenders are continuing their rise to success.
A big move came when the Defenders went 4-0 at the CSM Labor Day Classic in North Sioux City, Iowa. They attained a big win when they knocked off the then-ranked number six Park University, Missouri. After a 24-26 loss in the first set, the Defenders came out firing on all cylinders to steal the next three matches and run away with a 3-1 victory. In an interview with Defender Athletics, head coach Jacki Smith spoke to the resiliency of the Defenders during that 4-0 weekend.
“We faced numerous challenges and four very tough opponents,” Smith said. “I’m happy with our grit and competitive intensity but most importantly, I’m happy to see us clicking as a team.”
Another big win came during Dordt’s first conference game of the season against the then higher-ranked number 17 Dakota Wesleyan Tigers. The Defenders took control early on and never let off the gas. After getting up 5-4 in the first match, the Defenders never trailed again and started off with a 25-22 win. The next two sets went just as well for the Defenders, grabbing two quick 25-19 and 25-15 set wins. The Defenders never gave the Tigers a chance and sent them home with a 0-3 loss.
The team is focused on showing up and getting better every day heading into the last part of the season and into the postseason.
“As a program, we’ve always got our eyes on nationals,” Kromendyk said. “But we are focused on doing the little things right before then.”
The Defenders are now over halfway through their season, with their final home game happening on Oct. 29 vs. Northwestern and the regular season concluding on Nov. 1 at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.