Storm squeeze into tournament

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The sounds of sneakers pounding on the court’s floor at early morning practices replaced teary goodbyes as the Dixie State University volleyball team has a shot at making history.

Despite what seemed like a season-ending loss against Point Loma Nazarene University Nov. 11, DSU earned its first NCAA Division II tournament appearance. DSU, the sixth seed in the West Regional conference, faces third seed University of California, San Diego, Thursday in San Bernardino, Calif., in its round-of-64 match.

Head coach Robyn Felder said the team waited in anticipation Nov. 25 as the tournament bracket was announced. The team’s regular season-closing loss to Point Loma made players face the fact that reaching the program’s first NCAA tournament may not happen. However, big losses by top-ranked teams opened the door for DSU, and Felder said the turn of events are hard to describe.

“You know, I think ‘shock’ is a great word,” she said. “The events that led up to us going (to the tournament) were just one-in-a-million kind of things, so we were absolutely thrilled.”

Watching an online feed of the tournament results with teammates, libero Haylee Wilkes, a sophomore English major from Salt Lake City, said “shock” may be an understatement when the Storm made history after facing numerous ups and downs.

“[When] our team’s name appeared [as] the sixth seed, everyone was screaming and hugging and jumping around,” she said. “It was like a New Year’s Eve count down. Anyway, saying we’re excited to go might be an understatement.”

The Red Storm have momentum going into the tournament from winning eight of their last 10 matches, and Felder said preparing for first-time opponents creates a different situation for both coaches and players. Other than making small adjustments for each opponent, the team’s overall approach won’t change. Felder said out-talking, out-hustling and outworking go a long way.

“We need to just take care of our side of the court, and that’s kind of what we’ve focused on all season,” Felder said. “We’ve scouted teams and watched teams, but when we really can control our side of the court and what we’re doing, that’s when we’ve been the most successful.”

Heading into the tournament, the Storm has had to refocus. As pieces fell into place and DSU rose in the rankings, Felder said players — particularly seniors — realized a second chance was imminent. Everything the team accomplishes now is building on an already historic season, she said.

“We’re thrilled to keep going,” Felder said. “We didn’t feel like we were finished; it’s kind of unfinished business for us (from) that last game.”

DSU’s performance in the tournament will not only build on this team’s legacy, but also lead the way to the program’s future accomplishments, Wilkes said.

“Now that teams know how good we are, we can play next year with other teams expecting more [from] us,” she said. “And we hope to make it on top every year from here on out.”

If DSU beats UC San Diego, it faces the winner of the Brigham Young University-Hawaii and Alaska Anchorage match Friday. BYU-H swept the Red Storm 3-0 in the teams’ matchup Oct. 26.