It has been four years since Dawson Community College started a women’s volleyball program. And though the team’s current record of 4-15 fails to impress, it does not tell the whole story.
The team is now made up of mostly new players, as 10 of 14 women joined the team in the beginning of the season. Undersized and out-numbered, they now struggle to find the confidence needed to secure wins.
Still, these athletes consider themselves underdogs, fighting to establish a winning tradition for future Lady Buccaneers.
As student athletes, they are living apart from their families, often finding themselves culture shocked in the midst of the badlands.
DCC sophomore Desiree Schauman, 19, is a nationally ranked volleyball player who averages 4.57 digs per set.
Originally from Minnesota, she moved to Helena in high school, where she graduated with nearly 400 classmates.
Her father played college baseball and her mother played college volleyball. Schauman earned an athletic scholarship to DCC and now plays as a defensive specialist.
"Our strength is our weakness," she said. "Athletically we are the best team DCC has ever had. But we are an emotional team that often beats ourselves."
The Lady Buccaneers have one of the best defenses in their league, Schauman said. And her proof is how well they have competed against nationally ranked teams this season.
There’s no doubt about it Schauman is hard working both on and off the court. Her goals for when she graduates DCC include earning a bachelor’s degree in education and playing volleyball at the University of Montana in Dillion.
She also works in town, volunteers for the Montana Campus Corps and has earned a 3.8 grade point average. Aside from academia, Schauman also makes time for her fiance, who she met at DCC. And being from the city, she enjoys the "laid back" feel that Eastern Montana embodies.
DCC sophomore Shelby Jessiman, 19, also enjoys Glendive, having been raised on a ranch in Alberta, Canada.
The outside hitter learned of Dawson and its volleyball team "through the grapevine" and was advised by her high school guidance counselor to take a risk and indulge in the opportunity that awaited her.
Jessiman was raised in an athletic family. Her mother played volleyball, her played father hockey. She played multiple sports in high school where she graduated – not with 400 classmates – but 40.
"I volunteer a lot in town, mentoring kids, volunteering to cook for Assembly of God," she said.
An illustrator and an inexperienced swimmer, Jessiman said she is comforted best on the volleyball court where it "feels good being the underdog."
She is capable of analyzing the way the Lady Buccaneers must improve their play and then jabbing a quick witted remark at a fellow teammate she calls "Rook."
The recipient of the nickname is freshman NaTasha Mathis, 18, who is from Helena and graduated from a Christian school with less than 13 classmates.
"There seems like there’s a billion people at DCC," Mathis said.
Rook, who is an outside hitter, hasn’t seen her twin sister for 26 days. She said moving to college is the longest she’s been away from her family.
Other things difficult for her are the demands of playing matches when out-numbered, having no extra players and competing – no matter how the day may pan out.
Head coach John Marble, who has recruited student athletes from across the country and, sometimes, from as far as Eastern Europe, has a knack for building team camaraderie.
The student athletes are either in class, practicing or studying 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day, Mathis said.
They regard one another as a big family, sisters and friends with varying roles.
Off the volleyball court, Schauman, Jessiman and Mathis do what any other 18 and 19 year old students may do in Glendive – they walk in Makoshika State Park, attend dances and have one another over for dinner.
But on the court, as they look ahead to the Region IX tournament in November, where the winner goes on to Nationals in Iowa, the three women claw at ways to win. They search within themselves and amongst their teammates for ways to overcome their lack of size or lack of numbers and to eventually finish their matches with a victory – they compete in part to establish a winning tradition.
By Eric Killelea
Ranger-Review Staff Writer