VERMILLION — It was a month ago during a preseason media gathering that a South Dakota volleyball assistant coach pointed to the court, smiled and said, “Watch out for number six.”
Elizabeth Juhnke was that player.
Six-foot outside hitter. Freshman. From Lakeville, Minnesota.
Turns out, that coach was on to something.
Juhnke has made an immediate impact on a Coyotes squad that sits 9-1 after a perfect weekend. Not only is she USD’s leader in kills, she ranks first in the Summit League in kills per set (4.34) and second in kills (152).
So this begs the question, did Juhnke expect anything like this?
“Absolutely,” she said, with a smile, after Saturday night’s five-set win over Iowa at USD’s home classic.
“I knew when I was being recruited that this was a growing program. These coaches are phenomenal. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”
And it was a decision Juhnke made early.
She verbally committed to the USD coaching staff during her sophomore year at Lakeview North High School. The following year, as a junior, Juhnke led her team to a Minnesota state championship, and then earned player of the year honors by two major newspapers in the Twin Cities following her senior year.
Juhnke was also named to the all-tournament team at the 2018 AAU Nationals, was a 2018 AVCA Under Armour All-American honorable mention selection and was a top-250 recruit by PrepVolleyball.com.
All the while, she knew that she’d soon be coming to Vermillion.
“They really saw potential in me,” Juhnke said. “They didn’t look at my size and say, ‘Oh, she couldn’t be at this level.’”
No, instead, the Coyote coaches expressed immediate confidence in Juhnke, she added.
“In recruiting, if someone wants you just as much as you want to go there, it’s not even a question,” Juhnke said. “You’re going there.”
Juhnke had received recruiting interest from schools across every level and was looking for a place where she could contribute right away, according to USD head coach Leanne Williamson.
“Obviously we don’t promise anything, but we knew how good she could be,” Williamson said after Saturday’s win. “She just stepped on the floor on day one in preseason and showcased how dynamic she can be.”
As potent as Juhnke has been on offense, she does far more than dent the court with her powerful swing, her coach added.
“She’s probably the best outside blocker that we’ve ever had in our program,” Williamson said.
“Her impact on the program is not just on offense, it’s her volleyball IQ and her competitiveness.”
As a senior in high school last year at this time, Juhnke watched from a distance as USD won the Summit League tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time at the Division I level.
“It made me even more excited to come in and work hard,” Juhnke said. “Wanting to get back to the NCAA Tournament is a huge thing for our team, but we just have to focus on our side of the court.”
Of course, in Juhnke’s case, she was jumping into a team that already had high goals for the season.
“Yes, the coaches all have high expectations, but each player on the court and everyone on the bench, we all have high goals for ourselves,” Juhnke said.
And the Coyotes have not shied away from those goals for this season: Return to the NCAA Tournament and win a match there.
“We all know we can get to that level,” Juhnke said. “That’s our mindset and that’s what we want to do.”
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