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Former Aberdeen residents coach in state volleyball finals

Garretson volleyball coach Dennis Northrup, center, talks to his players during a time out during Thursday’s Class A match at the South Dakota State Volleyball Tournament in Rapid City. Photo by John Davis taken 11/18/2021

A pair of individuals with Aberdeen ties guided their teams to runner-up finishes at the recently completed state volleyball tournament in Rapid City.

Dennis Northrup of Garretson and Abigail Dockter of Colman-Egan have each built solid volleyball programs, but took much different routes in doing it.

Northrup is no stranger to the sidelines. He was part of a pair of Class A state championships when he was an assistant at Hot Springs and then won two more state titles as head coach at Aberdeen Central. On the other end of the spectrum, Dockter became a head coach without any advance notice or prior training.

Both have helped to change the culture at their respective schools.

“The hardest part about Garretson volleyball was they had a string of 0-69, and then the five years following that they won nine matches,” said Northrup, who is assisted by former Aberdeen Central player Lauren (McCafferty) Stoterau.

What Northrup found when he joined the Blue Dragons program was a bunch of raw athletes who needed a sense of direction and a shot of confidence.

“They just have bunch of kids that have athleticism,” Northrup said, “and they just needed somebody to get them all headed in the right direction.”

Dockter, a former all-state volleyball player for Aberdeen Roncalli, was planning on being a civil engineer before switching to go into education. After her first year as a teacher, she decided to help out with the junior high volleyball team one summer.

“The head coach ended up leaving halfway through the summer,” Dockter recalled.

Soon, her phone was blowing up with people wondering if she was going to take the job.

“I kind of got thrown into the head coaching position. My first year of doing that was just like complete non-sense really, because the last time I had been around structured volleyball was my senior year and that was as a player,” said Dockter, who noted she didn’t even know any drills to run in practice. “I had no idea what goes into coaching. My first year was a total whirlwind.”

Colman-Egan volleyball coach Abigail Dockter, center, talks to her players during a time out in Friday’s Class B semi-final round of the South Dakota State Volleyball Tournament in Rapid City. Photo by John Davis taken 11/19/2021

Both Northrup and Dockter made an immediate impact on their respective programs which have been on the rise ever since.

Garretson won 18 games in Northrup’s first two seasons and just capped off a 29-2 season with a runner-up finish in Class A.

Needless to say, the culture changed dramatically when Northrup arrived on the scene.

“That was the hardest part,” Northrup said of instilling a belief in his players. He recalled members saying out loud they were not going to defeat certain opponents, because they never had before.

Meanwhile, Dockter’s teams keep getting farther each season. Last year, Colman-Egan qualified for its first state tournament and this year, the Hawks defeated the state’s last remaining unbeaten team (Bridgewater-Emery) in the region, then knocked off the top-seeded team (Platte-Geddes) in the semifinals before finishing runner-up in Class B.

“You just look back at this last month, it’s really just surreal for this community and for this team,” Dockter said.

While each has taken a much different path to their coaching positions, it’s safe to say that both Northrup and Dockter are pleased with their current landing spots and are making the most of their opportunities.

“This is the most fun I’ve had coaching, ever,” said Northrup in his 30th year on the sidelines. “These kids are something else.”

Dockter still has a hard time believing how much has changed in her life in the past five years, from planning to be an engineer to becoming a successful head volleyball coach.

“It’s definitely way better than engineering,” she said.

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