Jimmies open GPAC tourney Saturday hosting Mustangs
The University of Jamestown women's volleyball team will be hosting Morningside College in the opening round of the GPAC tournament.
The excitement has been building for months for the No. 1-ranked University of Jamestown women's volleyball team.
"I think the players are really excited," said UJ women's volleyball coach Jon Hegerle. "We've been waiting a long time for this. Just from the mood in the gym, I can feel the excitement growing which is good."
The Jimmies will kick off the opening round of the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) postseason volleyball tournament Saturday at 3 p.m. UJ will be hosting eighth-seeded Morningside College.
The Jimmies rolled to an 18-1 record and captured the Great Plains Athletic Conference regular-season title last November and received the GPAC's regular-season automatic berth to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Volleyball Championship.
"With Morningside, we really don't know what to expect," Hegerle said. "We do know that some teams, their personnel has changed because of players graduating in December. We always know that the GPAC is tough and every team is tough. We're going to have to come out and play hard."
The Jimmies' personnel has also changed slightly as freshman outside, Nicole Schmitz, hasn't been on the court the last few weeks. Schmitz has been out of the rotation due to health concerns but is eager to support her team and hopefully take her turn on the court in a couple of the Jimmies' upcoming games.
"Each and every one of the girls on our team gives it 110% in practice and during games," Schmitz said. "It for sure is a different experience having a season last for seven months as opposed to three months. Our coaches and athletic trainers have been great with keeping us in shape and staying active and hungry for this spring season (and) we have each other to lean on when times get tough and that is super special."
Schmitz had a special season in the fall, tallying 150 kills and 406 total attacks on the outside as a true freshman. Schmitz turned in a hitting percentage of .234, en route to her 162.5 total points. On defense, Schmitz popped up 29 digs and used her hops at the net to tally 21 total blocks. Schmitz, the 2019 Class B senior volleyball athlete of the year out of Oakes, North Dakota, was the only freshman to start for the Jimmies.
"It has been a great experience playing with the Jimmies my first year," Schmitz said. "The fall season was amazing and the memories and relationships I have made with the team are ones that will last me a lifetime. It was a good challenge for me to transition from high school volleyball to collegiate level volleyball and has made me a better player and competitor overall."
Strong competition by all on the Jimmies' squad will be needed heading into the next couple of weeks.
Saturday's winners will meet in the semifinals on Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the higher seed hosting. The GPAC championship is slated to be held April 10 at 2 p.m. with the higher seed hosting. The GPAC tournament winner, or runner-up if the Jimmies win, also receives an automatic berth to nationals.
"The GPAC is a super competitive conference for the NAIA, which I think is going to be good for us," Schmitz said. "Having a high level of competition under our belt before nationals I think will benefit us in the end. We are ready to compete hard and get back to where we left off in November."
There are 48 teams that will be playing in the 2020 NAIA Volleyball National Championship which kicks off April 17 with higher seeds hosting games. The opening round winners will head to the NAIA National Championships slated to be held April 27-May 1 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
It's a long road ahead for the Jimmies. Hegerle said he is not doing much scrimmaging with his team during practice but is instead focusing on particular individual skills.
"To be honest, it feels like a really long season and because of that if we go too long in practice or do too much it really has that grind sort of feel to it," Hegerle said. "That's not good at this time of the year so we're just trying to keep it light and work on some individual things and some skill stuff and our team cohesiveness in practice.
"We're focused on the recipe we need to play at our top level. We're super excited to get into playoffs (and) we are going to enjoy it."