Considering the quick rise of Concordia volleyball over the past three seasons, it’s easy to understand why the 2016 senior class is a bit giggly – er, giddy about this coming fall. Said Tiegen Skains, “Alayna (Kavanuagh) and I always get super giggly and I don’t really know why.”
The giggles began back in the summer of 2013 when a group of then future Bulldogs played together for the first time at an AAU tournament in Orlando, Florida, under the guidance of Scott Mattera, who begins his fifth season at the helm of the Concordia volleyball program in 2016. Said Kavanaugh, “We were walking out on the court and introducing ourselves to each other.” Each of the seniors, who had then just finished high school, point to that moment as validation for their decisions to choose Concordia. Added Paige Getz, “Meeting them for the first time I liked everyone. Everybody was really fun and we played really well together on the court.”
For Kavanaugh, there had been some initial hesitation – that is until she found out what she was actually getting into.
“Concordia wasn’t on my list and I really didn’t want to go at all. It sounds kind of bad,” Kavanaugh said. “My dad encouraged me to look at it more and I had a few classmates who had gone and then Taylor Workman signed to go. That was a big part of the reason why I chose Concordia. Coach Mattera came to one of my tournaments to watch and it kind of took off from there. I went to a lot of open gyms in the summer and I loved the girls right away. It became – why would I not come?”
Getz, Kavanaugh, Skains and Workman formed the nucleus of a big-time class. They also came in with Hannah Oberle, Naomi Quigg and Allison Wiebe. With them on board, the Bulldogs went from 17 wins in 2013 to 20 in 2014 and then 26 and the program’s first-ever national tournament berth last year. The struggles the program went through prior to 2013 are now a distant memory. “Coming in I didn’t know how Concordia had been doing,” Kavanaugh said. “I didn’t know the records. It’s really cool to see how much we have improved.”
Time flies and the clock is ticking away quickly for Kavanaugh and company, who feel a greater sense of urgency this offseason. They’ve been part of history (first-ever national tournament appearance) while serving as key figures in a transformation that has seen volleyball home matches turn into hyper-charged events inside Walz Arena. “It’s crazy because in November we were saying, ‘we’ll get it next year.’ Now next year is in a couple months,” Skains said.
Collectively, the core four seniors have produced 2,317 kills and 533 blocks. Kavanaugh has dished out 3,386 assists all by herself. They’ve helped make Concordia one of the more exciting attacking teams in the nation. Among NAIA teams in 2015, the Bulldogs ranked 19th in kills per game and 32nd in hitting percentage. The 2016 squad will return its leader in aces, kills, assists, digs and blocks from 2015, meaning the senior class will be looked upon to steer a group with hearty expectations.
They all say they feel the urgency with their days as Bulldogs limited.
“It’s always in your mind,” Workman said. “This is the last time that we will be doing all these things. This is the last preseason so you really want to make it count. You want to go all out and get the results that you were hoping for. It’s crazy to think about.”
The desired result is a season that culminates in Sioux City, Iowa, the final destination for the national tournament and perhaps the final destination for a group of seniors that could go down as the best four-year bunch in program history.
Getz, a native of Paola, Kan., gave up track and field this past spring to focus on volleyball. With 956 career kills, she’s primed to become the next member of the 1,000 kills club and to enjoy her best season yet. She finished her junior year strong, registering 14 kills in the opening round national tournament loss to Olivet Nazarene. Merely reaching the opening round in 2016 won’t cut it for Getz.
“I can’t see anything happening where we don’t make it (to Sioux City),” Getz said. “Everybody just knows that’s something we’re going to get to. Obviously we have to work hard for it. We’re ready.”
Just a few years ago the bulk of this senior class teamed up on a successful AAU tournament run. At that time they were just strangers attempting to figure each other out. Could they trust each other? Could they bond together? Could they win together? They’ve answered in the affirmative in each instance. Now they know each other’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and personalities – on and off the court.
Let’s not wish the summer away. But Aug. 20 could be the start of something extra special for a giggly group that first came together in the land of Disney.
Said Skains, “Every year has gotten a little better and more fun. We’ve made a lot of history so that’s cool. It’s fun to be part of. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Paige, Alayna and Taylor – we’ve all been doing it together. It’ll be fun to finish it out with them.”