Nyden Hill – Staff Writer
This past weekend the Gusties finished off their regular season with a bang, resulting in a 3-0 sweep of St. Scholastica at home. The Gusties are ranked number 15 in the country and extended their MIAC record to 11-0 and their overall winning streak to 13. While they ended the regular season with four losses, the Gusties are undefeated at home. As the Gusties host the MIAC tournament, this home field advantage will certainly garner big crowds for their games, starting on Thursday.
“Playing in front of a home crowd is one of the most rewarding parts of the season. I think it makes the energy leading up to the game much higher because we know we get to compete in front of our family and friends,” Sophomore Brynn Smith said.
Since the opening of conference play in late September, the Gusties have been rolling with no losses and only one game going to five sets. On October 22, the Gusties placed themselves firmly in the MIAC driver’s seat with a 3-1 victory over Saint Benedict. That win gave them ownership of the regular season title and ensured that they would host the MIAC tournament as the number one seed. Notably, three Gusties recorded double-digit kills, with Senior right side Sarah Elliot pacing the team with 14, Junior outside hitter Marlee Turn racking up 13, and Junior outside hitter Lauren Klaith recording 10. Junior setter Kasie Tweet led the team in assists and digs with 34 and 15 respectively.
With this strong momentum in mind, the Gusties seem to be firing on all cylinders as a team as they approach the MIAC tournament.
“We are a team that likes to take our season day by day and game by game, and not focus too much on things in the future. We like to have the mentality that even though we have just won a game, we come into practice the next day with the mindset that there are always areas to improve on and that we are not fully satisfied with our performance,” Sophomore Payton Auseth said.
This year, the key to success for the Gusties has seemed to be the depth they have across the board. From the front to back row, the Gusties have seemingly limitless players they can substitute into the game at any point.
“Having the depth that we do is something that separates us from not only other MIAC teams but nationally as well,” Smith said.
Smith was not the only player to share this sentiment.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is the depth we have on the team and our ability to adapt to any sort of change coming our way. Not only is everyone ready to step up on the court and be ready to go when needed, but it’s amazing in practice to see the competitiveness we all have and how hard we push each other and ourselves to get better each day,” Auseth said.
With the end of the regular season and the conference tournament soon approaching,
fans of the MIAC and the Gusties have become familiar with a plethora of names that dress out in the black and gold. For much of the season, the Gusties have played each match substituting between two middles in front of the net.
Senior middle Sydney Olson gives the Gusties a boost on both sides of each game as she currently sits at 5th in the MIAC in hitting percentage and 6th in total blocks.
Senior middle Courtney Peterson stressed the importance of being a middle and what it adds to the team dynamic. “One of my favorite roles to play for the team is to provide energy at times when we need a boost. Volleyball can tend to be a game of momentum and runs. In being a senior, I try to come in and bring that momentum, confidence, and leadership every time I step on the court,” Peterson said.
“I could not be more grateful to be a Gustie. Every practice and game is a blessing and as the lasts come around I just keep reminding myself to give everything I have on the court, play with no regrets or fears, and enjoy all of the moments in between with the team,” Peterson said.
In continuing to look at things from an offensive standpoint, Turn has paced the Gusties offensively this season. The junior outside hitter is leading the conference in kills and sits at 4th in hitting percentage, while ranking 2nd in overall points scored. Amazingly, Turn is not the only Gustie volleyball player to be ranked in these categories. Elliot also rests at 8th in hitting percentage and 10th in kills and is ranked 8th in overall points. Tweet also seems to have settled into her role as controller of the Gustie offense, as the junior setter currently holds 2nd place in the MIAC for assists.
This season seems to have marked a turning point in Turn’s Gustavus volleyball career, as she has made huge jumps in performance.
“For me, this was a year where I feel like my mentality shifted, and I’ve been able to step up more and take on more of a leadership responsibility for the team. I feel like this year has really given me that opportunity,” Turn said.
In approaching things from a more defensive standpoint, First-year libero Maren Sunberg has emerged as a star for the Gusties this year. The first-year has made an immediate impact by positioning herself as 2nd in the conference in digs with an already-impressive Gustavus career high of 33. Additionally, three Gusties are already ranked in the top 10 for blocks. Olson sits in 6th, while Elliot and Junior middle Madi Kes hold 5th and 9th, respectively.
“As of right now our expectation is to make it to win playoffs and go to the NCAA tournament and continue to perform well in regionals, and our big goal is to take the NCAA tournament title,” said Auseth.
With this strong ending to their regular season in mind, the Gusties host the MIAC tournament this week, and starting Thursday, will face a fifth-seeded St Benedict in the second round of the tournament, so be sure to follow the action as the Gusties hope to make a deep run in the tourney.