Volleyball faces new region

Written by Muleskinner Staff

Senior hitter Bradye Peniston (12) leads the team in kills this season. (Photo by ANDREW MATHER, Photo Editor)

Story by Jason Strickland, Sports Editor—
The Jennies volleyball team (26-6) has won a regional championship the past two seasons, but this season’s road to an Elite Eight will be very different.
The MIAA and Great American Conference moved from the South Central Region to the Central Region this season, which includes the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
The road to a Central Regional Championship may go through Northern Sun teams. The 4-seed Jens’ first round game in St. Paul, Minn. today at 5 p.m. is against the 5-seed Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (28-4), who is one of four Northern Sun teams in the eight-team Central Region Tournament.
The Jens returned to practice Sunday and Monday after the Thanksgiving break, and one of the focuses was preparing for NSIC Player of the Year Kate Lange. The junior outside hitter leads the NSIC in kills with 532.
“When you play her, when you play that team, you know that you are going to play a player who’s going to get some kills, who’s going to score some points,” head coach Flip Piontek said.
“You have two decisions to make, whether you’re going to allocate extra people to try to block the best player in the conference, or whether you’re going to try to play as normal as you can and try to limit the effectiveness of the rest of the team.”
Most of Minnesota-Duluth’s offense comes from Lange, as it has three players with at least 200 kills, while the Jens have four players who have reached that mark.
Senior hitter Bradye Peniston leads the Jens with 387 kills, and was one of five Jens named all-MIAA this season.
Former Jens hitter and four time all-American Allie Huffman is a graduate student and has helped the team during practices throughout the season, and she could have a big impact on the Minnesota-Duluth game.
“I really feel like (Huffman) gave us a really good idea of what (Lange) will be like,” Piontek said. “It’s terrific having her on campus and being able to use resources like her. I think by having her here, it makes the starting team better and helps them better understand some of the pressure that we will be facing.
“(Monday) we were playing a long match (in practice) and I said, ‘Allie, do you need a break in the back row?’ She says, ‘No, don’t take me off.’”
Other ways the Jens prepared for the tournament is scrimmaging longer than usual.
“As the year goes on, I don’t always do an actual scrimmage at every practice,” Piontek said. “But the last two days, I’ve scrimmaged a significant amount of time because you have to get the players used to playing in games with points, referees, whistles, counts and things that are going to happen in the game. (Monday) we played volleyball for over two hours.”
The Sunday and Monday practices were the final full practices before the regional tournament since they left for the nearly 500-mile bus ride Tuesday afternoon.
The NCAA requires teams to take a bus for trips under 500 miles, but Piontek prepared the team for long trips at the beginning of the season with a 600-mile trip to the Colorado Premier Challenge in September.
“There’s always an ulterior motive for us taking a bus to that trip,” Piontek said. “In previous years we’ve flown to Denver.”
The winner of the UCM/Minnesota-Duluth game will play the winner of the1-seed Concordia-St. Paul (27-4)/8-seed Wayne State (22-9) game on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Concordia-St. Paul is a Northern Sun team that has won the past five national championships and beat the Jens 3-0 in the Elite Eight last season. Wayne State finished fourth in the NSIC standings.
The 2/7 matchup is Southwest Minnesota State (29-2) of the NSIC and Truman (27-6). The 3/6 game is Nebraska-Kearney (33-2) and Washburn (31-3). The winner of those two games will play on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Central Regional Championship game is on Sunday at 8 p.m.