Coyotes Open Season On Friday

Elizabeth Loschen (12) and the South Dakota volleyball team has higher expectations for this season after earning the program’s first NCAA Division I Tournament berth in 2019.

VERMILLION — Some teams may not want to spend so much time talking about the previous season.

That’s not the case at South Dakota, though.

No, the Coyotes take every chance they get to discuss last season’s historic run to a Summit League volleyball tournament title and a first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division I Tournament.

“Last year is a perfect opportunity to say, ‘This is the new standard and we’re going to build on that,’” senior outside hitter Elizabeth Loschen said.

That new standard would also include going a step further.

“Our goal is to win a match there,” Loschen said. “That’s the bar to reach.”

South Dakota had spent many years building itself into a consistently successful program and an annual threat in the Summit League, but last year, it finally broke through.

The Coyotes (21-10) beat Denver in the Summit League tournament final and then got sent to Omaha, Nebraska, for the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Creighton in the first round.

That journey has certainly changed the expectations in Vermillion.

“It was a great experience something that we really enjoyed, but we don’t want it to be a once in every couple years thing,” head coach Leanne Williamson said.

“We don’t want it to take 10 years to get back again.”

Although the Coyotes graduated three of their top-five hitters from last season’s tournament squad, they were still picked to finished second in the Summit League this season — Denver got the nod as the favorite by two points.

Back to the fold for the Coyotes, however, is senior Anne Rasmussen, the reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year. Rasmussen led the conference with 5.44 digs per set, a mark that ranked in the top-20 nationally, and recorded a total of 604 digs.

Defense has been a staple for the Coyotes for a few years now, and that figures to remain the same this fall, according to Loschen.

“We have statistical goals, and this year we want to up our blocking and get more opportunities at the net,” Loschen said.

Not only do the Coyotes return Loschen (247 kills), they bring back sophomore setter Madison Jurgens (1163 assists, 281 digs, 94 kills), sophomore middle Claire Gerdes (77 kills), sophomore outside hitter Jenna Wagemester (67 kills) and sophomore middle Emily Grathoff (48 kills).

South Dakota also had three Division I transfers: junior outside hitter Sami Slaughter from Nebraska, sophomore middle Maddie Wiedenfeld from New Hampshire and senior setter Pamela Zuluaga from Arkansas-Little Rock.

In the case of Slaughter, she was someone the Coyotes recruited twice out of high school at Harrisburg — she had originally committed to Creighton but then ended up Nebraska, where she spent two seasons.

“When her name came on the (NCAA Transfer) Portal, we felt very comfortable with who she is and who her family is, and I’m sure that helped in her decision,” Williamson said.

South Dakota’s freshman class of five players is also perhaps the program’s best recruiting class, according to Williamson — among the freshmen is another Harrisburg graduate, defensive specialist Brooklyn Bollweg.

“They’re not only athletic players but people who understand the game so well,” she said. “We’ve been able to teach a lot more early on, even more of that high-level thinking.”

The Coyotes open the season with three matches at the IUPUI Invitational, beginning with IUPUI today (Friday) at 5:30 p.m. USD will then face Valparaiso and Murray State on Saturday.

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