Volleyball players have reported for fall training camp at Dawson Community College, kicking off the second season for the program.
Eight players have started the two-a-day practices and weightlifting routine, and head coach John Marble said a ninth player was expected to arrive from Oklahoma on Friday. Paperwork for a tenth player also was expected by the end of the week. "It's great to be back in the gym," Marble said Wednesday.
"The players are working hard. They've shown us a good level of focus and intensity. Even though it's only been a few days, we're already seeing some very nice improvement in what they're doing. They're getting better. They're getting stronger. To see that so quickly is exciting." The Lady Bucs are led by returning sophomores Amanda Shadbolt and Terah Lund who were members of DCC's historic inaugural volleyball squad. Marble said Shadbolt, a 5-10 right side hitter from Canada, and Lund, a 5-5 setter from Huntley, are taking on an important leadership role for the team.
"They've been there and they've been through it," he said. "They can provide the maturity on the court to sustain us when everyone else is in a new situation. They will provide that emotional component that allows us to compete to the best of our abilities." Shadbolt and Lund both spent time on the National Junior College Athletic Association's national rankings list last season -- Shadbolt for service aces and Lund for assists.
Marble said the sophomores have shown valuable leadership off the court. "Amanda and Terah are doing a great job building and reinforcing the expectations of our program with incoming players," he said. The recruiting class brings a new dynamic to the program.
With two new setters in 5-8 French recruit Myriam Lebied-Julien and 5-5 Great Falls freshman Amanda Krone, Marble said he will be moving to a 6-2 offense this fall, providing more options for the team on the court. Lund was the Bucs' only setter last year. "The whole setting crew is working hard and setting the example in the gym," he said. "They all are aggressive and competitive and really set the tone." Any one of the three Buccaneer setters, Marble said, could potentially be a defensive specialist or libero for the team, something that will give the team a good advantage, particularly on tournament weekends when the players are competing in multiple matches.
"With three setters in the gym, it will give us options to mix them up and save legs and maximize our ability to compete," he said. Marble said the team has a solid back row on defense and with height at the net in 6-3 Kirby Sabec of Hardin, Shadbolt, 5-11 Amanda Little of Billings and 5-10 Alyson Murnion of Jordan, there will be a formidable net presence.
"Net presence is developing," he said. "We are seeing some real positive things happening with our big players at the net." The Lady Bucs compete both in the Mon-Dak conference and the NJCAA Region IX north. This year, Marble said, the north was divided into two sub-regions and Dawson will be competing against fewer Wyoming teams at home. As a result, there are fewer home matches scheduled. Also, Miles Community College dropped its volleyball program following a failed search for a new coach.
Marble said that move was disappointing not only because it means the Bucs will not be competing against a long-standing school rival in volleyball, but also because it will mean less opportunity to advance the sport in Eastern Montana. "I was very disappointed to see Miles drop their program," he said. "It's bad for volleyball in Eastern Montana to lose a college program that could really be a resource for the area and local players and coaches."
The Bucs have a full schedule of matches on the road, traveling to schools in North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Minnesota and Canada. While all of their matches are important, Marble said he is focused on improving his team's performance in the Mon-Dak Conference over last season.
"It's a good place to start," he said. "We know we competed well against those teams and we will focus on taking the next step against them." The season opens for the Lady Bucs Aug. 28 with a tournament at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn. Marble said he looks forward to the competition. "Our first weekend is pretty key for us," he said. "It's really a chance to see what we're capable of and identify the things we want to improve on and focus our strengths on what we do well."
The first home match is set for Sept. 8 against Williston State College.
Marble said he is excited for the home schedule, which includes a number of special activities this season. There will be a Little Bucs volleyball clinic following the Sept. 29 home match, a middle school tournament prior to the Oct. 3 game, a Dig Pink breast cancer awareness event Oct. 5 and sophomore night and Buccaneer costume contest Oct. 17.
Community support continues to be key for the program, Marble said. "I was very pleased with community support for a new program last year".
By Melissa Smith