Connect with us


Northwestern back at state volleyball tourney with new look

Northwestern’s Ella Haven, left and teammate Brooklinn Halvorson, right, celebrate a point during last Tuesday night’s SoDak 16 match against Faulkton in Ipswich. Northwestern faces Wolsey-Wessington in the first round of the State B tournament Thursday in Sioux Falls. Photo by John Davis taken 11/8/2022

MELLETTE – Perennial power Northwestern is no stranger to State B volleyball tournaments, but this year’s squad has minimal state tourney experience.

While the Wildcats are led by senior leaders Ella Haven and Brooklinn Halvorson, they are the only two remaining players from Northwestern’s state championship team of two years ago.

“I’m exited for this crew to get to go,” said Northwestern coach Nora Groft of her young team. “I’ve got 16 kids on varsity and only two of them have ever been to a state tournament before. This will be a brand new experience for them.”

The Wildcats, 27-8 on the season, have won 14 matches in a row heading into the state tourney. That streak coincides with changes that saw 13 different kids filter into and out of the lineup before Groft settled on her current starting rotation.

In short, Northwestern switched from a taller lineup to a smaller and quicker group.

“These kids are a track team. They got second at the state track meet last year,” Groft said. “We decided to go small and fast, and that’s definitely been to our advantage.”

There’s no doubt that the Wildcats are led by Haven and Halvorson. The duo has had a milestone season with Haven going over 1,000 kills and Halvorson surpassing 2,000 set assists.

“They’ve been good leaders. Every year we’re as successful as our seniors want us to be,” Groft said. “When the seniors show up and play well, everybody follows them. That‘s really important when you have a lot of young kids.”

Those young kids include freshman Ashley Haven, as well as backrow players sophomore Payton Grandpre, freshman Ella Boekelheide, and eighth-grader Tara Blachford, who Groft said bring energy to the squad.

Northwestern’s Payton Grandpre digs out a serve during last Tuesday night’s SoDak 16 match against Faulkton in Ipswich. Photo by John Davis taken 11/8/2022

“God didn’t make them 6-feet tall,” Groft said, “but he definitely gave them a lot of heart.”

The Wildcats face a familiar foe in the opening round at 1:15 p.m. Thursday at the Premier Center in Sioux Falls when they square off against Wolsey-Wessington. The two met back in August with Northwestern winning in five sets.

Groft said a key to her team’s success against the Warbirds will definitely be defense.

“We have to play defense. They have multiple weapons and they have a lot of good athletes,” Groft said. “If we keep the ball off the floor, we put ourselves in a position to be successful. So defense is where it’s going to be at for us.”

While Haven is a powerful force at the net, Groft pointed out that work needs to be done before her senior hitter gets to attack the ball.

“Ella is a good offensive weapon, but if we can’t get the ball up off the floor to get it to her, it doesn’t make any difference,” Groft said. “She won’t score if our back row doesn’t play the ball up. There are two other kids that have to do their job before Ella gets to do hers.”

The fourth-seeded Wildcats will enter the tournament with a much different role than in previous years when they were among the favorites to win the event. Groft doesn’t mind being an underdog for a change.

“We’re going to go in and do our best. These kids can’t disappoint me,” she said. “Getting to this tournament was the ultimate goal and anything that happens beyond this is just pure joy for us.”

Purchase a Photo

Browse By Category

Browse By Month

More in Volleyball

Dacotah Bank