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Waldo directs Golden Eagles from setter position

Aberdeen Central’s Ayrlie Waldo sets the ball during a match against Sturgis earlier this season at the Golden Eagles Arena. Photo by John Davis taken 9/9/2023

Ayrlie Waldo’s on-court value has a lot to do with her position, but even more to do with her leadership qualities.

Waldo, a senior, serves as Aberdeen Central’s primary setter and has quarterbacked the Golden Eagles to their first state tournament appearance since 2020, where they will take on top-seeded Harrisburg today.

And when she takes the court this weekend, it will be the culmination of a high school career that has seen Waldo improve by leaps and bounds every season.

You see, Waldo’s position as a setter was never written in cement. At 5-foot-3, she has spent time throughout her career hitting out of the front row, setting out of the back and, at times, playing defensive specialist.

“That was different,” Waldo said of the temporary move to the defensive side of the lineup. “I’ve always been a setter.”

But that move was a bit of a blessing in disguise, it turns out.

“It just makes me know the court more and allows me to know what all is going on,” she said. “I was a little bummed (at the time) that I moved to passer, but now I’m always cheering my passers on. I know how hard it is to have the ball served at you or to have a ball hit so hard at your face.”

Waldo now uses that experience and empathy and parlays it into a keen awareness of what’s going on around her. For example, she’ll take note of where the opposing team’s setter is on the court and quietly pass that information on to her hitters, along with what spots might be open for a shot.

That awareness is partially innate and partially honed.

Aberdeen Central’s Ayrlie Waldo looks to serve the ball during a match against Spearfish earlier this season at Golden Eagles Arena. Photo by John Davis taken 9/8/2023

“Honestly, something I’ve always done,” Waldo said. “I come from a big family. I have five younger siblings. I just take on leadership roles and tell everyone where they’re supposed to be. … I think that’s why I fell in love with setting. You’re the quarterback of the team. You decide where the ball goes.”

And it’s made her impossible to take off the court. 

Central coach Jackie Bindenagel said the Golden Eagles began the year running a 6-2 offense with two setters, but quickly switched to a 5-1 offense, keeping Waldo on the court through all six rotations.

“She’s just that quiet kid, but she’s worked so hard for us this year,” Bindenagel said. “Without her in there our hitters can’t find that success.”

Waldo also plays basketball for the Golden Eagles and last spring was a key member of Central’s inaugural softball squad, an experience she said she treasures.

Aberdeen Central’s Ayrlie Waldo connects with a pitch during a game against Sioux Falls Roosevelt last season at Koehler Hall of Fame Field on the Northern State University campus. Photo by John Davis taken 4/18/2023

“I just felt a calling,” she said. ”That team needs a leader and needs someone who knows the game of softball. I loved it even though we didn’t have the best season.”

Waldo isn’t even phased with the idea of going up against the state’s top-rated team in Harrisburg, a squad that has yet to taste defeat this season, though the Golden Eagles made a valiant push against them earlier in the season. Despite losing senior Grace Kuch to what proved to be a season-ending knee injury before the match started, Central still pushed the Tigers to a 30-28 decision in the final set of that match.

“I just think of it as playing any other team we were able to beat,” Waldo said.

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