Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography (Courtesy of NDSU)
Feature photo: McKenzie Burke, Abbi Klos and Bella Lien
With only one senior on the roster, NDSU volleyball must rely on juniors and sophomores to provide leadership on the court.
In year two under coach Jen Lopez, North Dakota State faces an interesting challenge. No, it was not the tough non-conference games against Minnesota and others. Nor is it the rival Fighting Hawks joining the Summit League. It is the absence of a bulky senior class. The 2017 Bison featured four seniors, while 2018’s team only has one, McKenzie Burke. Yet, they have an immense amount of experience throughout the roster, and the younger players are ready to take on leadership roles.
“It is hard because we lost a good senior class, but with the returners we do have and the true freshmen who played last season, I think the goal is to push them even further,” Burke said. With two juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen (one redshirt) to accompany Burke, she is not worried about the Bison locker room. “With our returners, especially this offseason, we wanted to drill in what our main goals are, what our standard is going to be and how we’re going to beat that standard every time,” she said. “It’s really teaching them at a young age how to play that leadership role and that just because they are sophomores, it doesn’t mean they can’t play a higher role.”
However, for Burke, it is somewhat odd being the lone senior remaining from a former class of six. “It’s a little weird since I did come in with five other girls and now being the only one,” she said. “Me having a leadership role has not changed from last year. I had to kind of take on a little different role, one that I wasn’t used to and now it’s just how can I build off of that this year. How can I be strong and consistent for the other girls or even the junior class. I want to be a good role model for them so that they can continue after I’m gone.”
The returners Burke speaks of all gained valuable time in 2017. Every single sophomore played in at least 22 matches in 2017. One of the sophomores, Bella Lien, is prepared to take the step into a leadership role. “We’re kind of classified as upperclassmen now, even though it’s our second year,” Lien said. “Since we are a huge majority of the team, we need to take on the role of leaders. Bringing in the freshmen and being there for them, teaching them this program.”
Lien found the time she played last year to be quite valuable, especially with a daunting schedule ahead of the 2018 Bison. “It was really helpful last year getting time on the court,” she said. “Translating that to this year, having that experience playing already and being able to help the team in a different way is my goal.”
The junior class features Abbi Klos, who had 304 digs for the 19-9 Bison in 2017. Klos could care less about last year’s stats as she looks to take on a bigger role in 2018. “I don’t really think about stats,” she said. “It’s more so the fact that this is a new year, a new team and we want to compete at the highest level every day.”
Klos, who played in all 28 matches last season, knew it was her turn to become the team’s leader along with Burke. “I don’t think it’s too hard of a transition. Me and McKenzie saw how others led last year and we have been training since the spring and the summer with this group of girls,” she said. “I think it’s pretty natural for us to go into those leadership positions this fall.”
One thing has not changed from this year to last, and that is the team’s mindset. Though the leadership structure on the roster has fluctuated a bit, the team still stays true to Coach Lopez’s philosophy. “Come in with a winning mindset and see what happens,” Burke said. “We are there to compete and play for the team that is on our shirts and that’s what we’re going to do,” Klos said.
Despite the challenges that face them on the schedule, the 2018 Bison volleyball team is already a cohesive unit. While some may look at their roster on paper and see youth, the NDSU players and coaches see experience. What may ensue is a remarkable run this fall.
Burke, Klos and Lien in 2017
Had 268 kills in 2017, the second-most on NDSU’s roster. Burke’s 311.5 points in 2017 were also second on the team. She was named to the Summit League all-tournament team.
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Career-high 31 digs against Purdue Fort Wayne in November 2017. Was named Summit League Defensive Player of the Week after said performance.
Garnered Summit League Defensive Player of the Week in early September after having 14 blocks during the NDSU Classic. Finished 2017 with a team-high 101 blocks.