The last two weeks have been full of surprises for the Lady Buccaneers; between the return of a member of last year's inaugural team, introduction of an unexpected new player and emergence of a freshman as a leader at the net, the Dawson Community College squad hasn't had a dull moment.
After toying with the idea of playing for the Bucs during the summer, Freshman Ariel Johnson of Kalispell said spending time in the high school gym watching her sisters’ start a new fall season was enough to help her realize that she didn't want to give up a chance to play collegiate ball. She arrived on campus a little more than two weeks ago.
"I really started to miss playing," she said. "I called coach on Tuesday and he said, 'Come on down.' I left Thursday afternoon."
Not long after, Janelle Sheeran, a member of the Bucs' historic inaugural team, committed to return to the program despite a full academic scholarship at another school in an elite program. "It's always been my dream to play in college," she said. "I missed it a lot. I'm taking a year off my bachelor's to do what I want to do." Sheeran, who recently had a tonsillectomy, was cleared to play just in time for this week's road trip.
Meanwhile, freshman middle hitter Kirby Sabec has surprised herself more than anyone by emerging as one of the top Buccaneer leaders at the net, putting up consistent blocks and even finding that she set a program record for block assists with six in the match against Wahpeton last week. "I'm playing the best I've ever played," she said. "It really shocked me to find out the record I broke." Sabec so far has totaled 11 solo blocks and 15 block assists on the year. She also has swung for 28 kills, and in last week's match against Sheridan College, hit a .428, tying Sheeran for a third place spot in the DCC record books for highest hitting percentage in a match. Coach John Marble said Sabec, who is the tallest Buc, rostered at 6-3, has shown real development since the beginning of August training. "I'm so proud of Kirby and how she's been playing," he said. "She's really coming in to her own; it’s so exciting to see".
The Bucs have had something of a frustrating start to the year; going in to this weekend's road trip to Caronport, SK and back to Bottineau, the team had a 0-9 record. Sabec said she knows there are nerves on the court -- the majority of the team are freshmen -- but she is hoping to overcome that. Already, she is more comfortable on the floor.
"There are nerves," she said. "But when the ref blows the whistle for the serve, I get this adrenaline rush. It goes so fast. It's just awesome."
Individually, Sabec said, her goal is to continue to put up blocks and kills. "I want to better myself in everything I do," she said. For the team, Sabec said, cohesiveness is the goal. "We get along very well," she said. "I just think we have to start playing really well together."
Sheeran, a 5-10 left-handed middle, was a big contributor at the net for the Bucs last season, sharing the school record for block assists in a single match (four) with former Buc Stephanie Haynie until Sabec's performance in Wahpeton.
She knows the frustration the team is facing early this season; the Buccaneers finished last year with a 3-26 regular season record, going 18 matches between their first and second wins. For her, a comeback is about leadership and heart. "I realize what I have had to sacrifice to come back, and I want to make it worth it," she said. "I plan on bringing a lot of heart and leadership as a sophomore. I want to know that I didn't hold anything back." Marble said Sheeran's return is exciting. "It's great to have Janelle here," he said. "She's a dynamic middle that brings some experience and power to the team."
Johnson, rostered as a 6-0 outside hitter, said she is glad to bring some height to the floor for the Bucs, along with her good-humored personality. While it is difficult to come in after the season already has begun, Johnson said her teammates are making it much easier on her. "Everyone has been accepting," she said. "They're trying to make it an easy transition for me. It's really nice to have such a great team to come in to." Johnson already has been a defensive leader for the team; against Williston, she led the team in digs and was the number two back row defender against Sheridan. "I didn't know I was going to be passing," she said. "I didn't think I would be in the back row. It's really fun back there." "Ariel really adds some depth for us in the back row," Marble said. "That's exciting."