Category Archives: Volleyball

Eagles finish in Final Four, Peterson player of the year

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by Tatyana Breitkreuz

The University of Northwestern — St. Paul women’s volleyball team has had one of their best seasons in Eagle history. Starting off with a four home-game winning streak, the Northwestern women were set up for a successful season.

Coach Beth Wilmeth, who received her sixth UMAC Coach of the Year honor, led her team to 34 wins and only four losses this season, including a 3-2 home victory against the number-one ranked Cal Lutheran University in the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament.

“Last spring our players took time to map out team standards,” said Wilmeth. “They didn’t back away or make excuses, but set very high expectations for themselves. We’ve seen an incredible work ethic and discipline in our program, and that has been matched with a spirit of selflessness — all key ingredients to our success.”

For the first time in school history, Wilmeth and her team took to the court at the Elite Eight, playing Eastern University of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Northwestern fans stormed the court after the shocking 3-2 win, ending in a group prayer and looking ahead to their upcoming competition.  The next day, the Eagles made an appearance at the NCAA DIII Final Four.

“Being able to spend extra time with the team and get to play on almost the biggest platform we could was so much fun,” said junior Lindsey Peterson.

From right to left Abby Vander Galien (7), Jackie Doering (2), Leesa Hulstrand (22), Lindsey Peterson (1), Toria Gillson (6). Northwestern capped off their best season in school history with a trip to the Final Four in the DIII National Tournament. No Northwestern sports team had ever advanced past the Sweet 16, but both the volleyball squad (2015) and men’s basketball team (2015) made it to that point before falling (photo courtesy of unweagles.com).

From right to left Abby Vander Galien (7), Jackie Doering (2), Leesa Hulstrand (22), Lindsey Peterson (1), Toria Gillson (6). Northwestern capped off their best season in school history with a trip to the Final Four in the DIII National Tournament. No Northwestern sports team had ever advanced past the Sweet 16, but both the volleyball squad (2015) and men’s basketball team (2015) made it to that point before falling (photo courtesy of unweagles.com).

“The Final Four was surreal in many ways,” said Wilmeth. “It changes your perspective on what it takes to get to that level. We were prepared and ready for the moment when the opportunity happened.” The Eagles ended their successful season as they challenged Calvin College in a thrilling match that resulted in a Northwestern 0-3 loss. One concept that Wilmeth reiterated to her players throughout the season was that what they become is more important than what they achieve.

Junior Leesa Hulstrand shared how her team made a strong effort to compete for something greater than themselves.

“At the Final Four, we had a bigger platform to show that we were a different team because our ultimate goal was not an earthly scoreboard, but to make a heavenly impact,” said Hulstrand.

“The Final 4 was such a fun experience, but the heart of our program is more about the process and the growth that the Lord is doing in us,” said Wilmeth.  “I’m really proud of watching our players enjoy the moment while not letting it become our identity. We wanted to plant seeds by being uncommon.”

With a successful team effort has come outstanding individual performances. Northwestern has welcomed seven freshmen on their team this year along with three seniors, four juniors and four sophomores. Peterson (Sheffield, Iowa/West Fork) has had an impressive year, leading her team with 607 kills with an average of 4.78 kills per set. She has been a tenacious offensive and defensive player for the Eagles, being named the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) DIII National Player of the Year and a First Team All-American.

Peterson shares that she owes all of her success to her coaches and teammates because they have put an immense amount of time into pushing her to become a better player and individual.

“This year was one of my best college years, though every year has its own unique way of being great,” said Peterson. “I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without my team’s constant love, intentionality and encouragement.”

“Lindsey had an incredible season and is such a hard worker on our team,” said Wilmeth.  “She is very-deserving, and to be named National Player of the Year is something that’s hard to put into words — a huge accomplishment.”

Along with Peterson’s exceedance within her volleyball career has come her development into a mature role model and Christ-follower.

“Who she is today as a leader and person is so different than when she first came to Northwestern,” said Wilmeth. “It is fun to see the Lord honoring her in her desire to honor Him.”

Senior Shanay Gondor (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Washington) was also nationally recognized, receiving Honorable Mention All-American. This was Gondor’s last year playing for the Eagles, totaling an outstanding career record of 572 kills, 29 assists, 82 digs and 295 blocks.

Lindsey Peterson is junior Kinesiology/ Pre-Therapy major. She won player of the year (photo courtesy of unweages.com).

Lindsey Peterson is junior Kinesiology/ Pre-Therapy major. She won player of the year (photo courtesy of unweages.com).

“My time in the volleyball program has been extremely influential in shaping me as a woman,” said Gondor. “I’ve been stretched and given leadership roles that have transferred into greater confidence outside of the sport.” The senior has been impacted by the work God has done in and through those who competed before her and those who will follow after her.

“I’m probably not even aware of all the ways God has used volleyball to reveal more of Himself to me,” said Gondor. “It has been a great four years, and the legacy of the program and the experience I’ve had is a testimony to those who have worked to maintain the culture before me.”

Other outstanding performances include sophomore Freya Hanson (Otsego, Minnesota/St. Michael-Albertville) who recorded an impressive 282 kills, followed by Hulstrand (Eden Prairie, Minnesota/Eden Prairie) with 176 kills in her three-year college career.

Every season is unique with its mixture of players, but this year stood out as one of the best in Eagle history.

“This season taught us that hard work, love and unselfishness pays off,” said Hulstrand. When we work together for a common goal, anything is possible.”

“Our team’s willingness to be pushed and to handle challenges has been met with a tone of excitement and joy,” said Wilmeth. “Certainly some days it was a grind when there was hard work to be done, but the players were intentional to keep it fun.” A strong work ethic, discipline, selflessness and leadership are what Wilmeth believes what enabled her team to reach such great heights this season.

“I am so excited for next season,” said Hulstrand. “This season has set the standard for next year.”

“We’ve seen an incredible work ethic and discipline in our program, and that has been matched with a spirit of selflessness — all key ingredients to our success,” concluded Wilmeth.

The Eagles are Elite! UNW downs #1 Cal Lutheran

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by Katie Meinke

To be the best you have to beat the best, goes the cliche. The University of Northwestern — St. Paul Eagles did just that, upsetting the defending national champion and number one ranked California Lutheran College Regals in a 3-2 thriller inside Erickson Center.

Along the way to their first-ever Elite Eight apperance, UNW took out St. Norbert, UW-La Crosse, and top ranked Cal Lutheran. The Eagles fell earlier this year to La Crosse before beating them in straight sets last Friday night (photo by Micah Foy).

Along the way to their first-ever Elite Eight apperance, UNW took out St. Norbert, UW-La Crosse, and top ranked Cal Lutheran. The Eagles fell earlier this year to La Crosse before beating them in straight sets last Friday night (photo courtesy of Eagle 7 News).

The UNW athletic department has adopted the tagline, “Compete with Purpose,” encouraging athletes to compete at a level of sportsmanship and athletics that is God-honoring and used as a witness to competing teams, coaches and fans from around the midwest and the country.  The UNW volleyball team has taken this focus very seriously in preparing to host the NCAA tournament this weekend.

Senior Shanay Gondor shared thoughts on how the attitude of the team throughout her career has shaped them physically, emotionally and spiritually as they have prepared for a tournament like this.  “There is definitely an emphasis on physical development. We spend hours and hours working on skills and lifting and running both in and out of season, but interlaced into our practice time is also intentional devotional time,” Gondor said.  “Our coach assigns accountability groups that we meet with in both the fall and spring.  We set goals and seek to complete them.  We talk about vision and our testimony.  We battle through pride and selfishness as we strive to own the roles we have been given within the program.”

The Northwestern volleyball team advances to the Elite 8 with their win over #1 Cal Lutheran (photo courtesy of University of Northwestern).

The Northwestern volleyball team advances to the Elite 8 with their win over #1 Cal Lutheran (photo courtesy of University of Northwestern).

In preparation for the tournament, the UNW volleyball team spent time in prayer in each locker room and around Erickson and supplied devotional books to each player from other teams when they arrived for their practices Wednesday night.  Each member of the UNW team wrote letters to athletes from other teams encouraging them and showing hospitality as they compete at Northwestern this weekend.

“Over the last four years, I’ve been stretched and given leadership roles that have transferred into greater confidence outside of the sport,” Gondor continued.  “We often talk about volleyball as a vehicle within the program—a vehicle to shine for Jesus to opponents, a vehicle for humility, a vehicle for deep, God-honoring and church-edifying relationships, and a vehicle for greater intimacy within our relationship with Jesus.  I’m probably not even aware of all the ways God has used volleyball to reveal more of Himself to me.  It has been a great four years, and the legacy of the program and the experience I have had is a testimony to those who have worked to maintain the culture before me.”

The UNW volleyball team finished the regular season 8-0 in conference and 30-4 in their overall record.  Northwestern downed the St. Norbert Green Knights in straight sets in the first round, and then they did the same to UW-La Crosse in the second round, earning them their second trip in a row to the Sweet 16.

Photo by Micah Foy

Photo by Micah Foy

The third and final game at the Erickson Center featured the top team in the AVCA polls, the California Lutheran College Regals, taking on Northwestern. After the Regals took the first set UNW stormed back, taking the next two. As this dramatic season would have it, the fourth went to the visitors and prepared them for a fifth set epic.

Freya Hanson knotted things at 13 in the final set. One point later and two passing errors in a row from Cal Lutheran gave the Eagles a historic 16-14 win at Erickson Center as the student section rushed the floor.

Northwestern will play Eastern University on November 17th, with a place in the Final Four and national championship aspirations on the line.

Volleyball ranked nationally, aiming for humility

Shanay Gonder (11) and Leesa Hulstrand (22) are part if an Eagles squad that has dominated opponents so far this season, ahead of UMAC play. Gonder and Hulstrand have combined for 80 kills this season (photo by Greta Elsholtz).

by Shelby Eden

After making a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament last year and carrying a national ranking this year, the University of Northwestern- St. Paul women’s volleyball team prepares for the 2016 season through a Christ-minded, humble mentality while embracing a tenacious yet joyful competitive spirit.

Shanay Gonder (11) and Leesa Hulstrand (22) are part if an Eagles squad that has dominated opponents so far this season, ahead of UMAC play. Gonder and Hulstrand have combined for 80 kills this season (photo by Greta Elsholtz).

Shanay Gonder (11) and Leesa Hulstrand (22) are part if an Eagles squad that has dominated opponents so far this season, ahead of UMAC play. Gonder and Hulstrand have combined for 80 kills this season (photo by Greta Elsholtz).

Before the Eagles even stepped onto the game floor of the 2016 season, the women’s volleyball team faced a season filled with high expectations. In addition to coming off a 28-win season and making a deep playoff run in the 2015 NCAA tournament last season, in August, the Eagles earned a No. 23 ranking in the 2016 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Preseason Poll and received the unanimous vote to win the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference.

Jumping to a 4-0 start and improving their no. 23 national ranking to a no. 18 national ranking by Sept. 6, the Eagles look as if they are on the path to continue their frenetic winning ways in the new season.

Although the novelty and excitement of these preseason accolades resonates throughout the team, head coach Beth Wilmeth understands the importance of keeping these expectations in perspective in order to focus on goals more gratifying for the team.

“We don’t talk much about national rankings or polls. At the same time, we want to maximize our talent and steward the opportunity we have to reflect Christ at the highest level possible,” she said.

Shanay Gonder, a senior captain and starting mid-hitter, has a similar perspective to Wilmeth as she challenges herself and her team to look beyond the rankings and statistics.

Gonder stated, “Our team has never been about playing solely to win. It’s a fun aspect of volleyball and it’s a joy to be able to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us on bigger platforms, but ultimately, our team is focused on competing in a way that centers around Christ being known and if He chooses to do that through the success of our team, that’s awesome.”

In addition to working to honor Christ above game statistics and rankings, members of the UNW volleyball team work diligently to serve and be invested in one another.

Wilmeth, who has garnered nine conference titles and six consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament in her 13 seasons with the Eagles, has aimed to establish a positive team culture that fuels the Eagles’ success year after year.

“Once selflessness and team unity are present, the possibilities are endless.” – Shanay Gonder

“I see four things that have made us consistently successful: selflessness, leadership, joy, and commitment,” she said. “Beyond our players’ work ethic in the off-season, there has to be a surrender of ‘self.’ We’ve seen our players really buy in to serving each other, regardless of position, playing time, or individual accolades.”

Gonder added, “Once selflessness and team unity are present, the possibilities are endless.”

Along with setting mental and spiritual goals, the team aims to prepare for matches by practicing with mental toughness and defensive tenacity while remaining passionate for the game.

Wilmeth stated, “Passing, or our first contact consistency, is what determines how effective our offense can be. But we’ve always said that the front door of our testimony on the court is tenacity, our first core covenant. That starts with our defense. For us to compete with high-caliber teams, defense is always going to be key.”

Gonder appreciates her team’s ability to perform the fundamentals and execute properly but also emphasizes the importance of athletes loving and enjoying the game they dedicate themselves to play.

“Ultimately, if it becomes more about the to-do list and less about enjoying this sport I think we will have lost the plot,” stated Gonder. “Our practices combine a lot of stretching drills with opportunities for athletic enjoyment. If goals aren’t met but the coaching staff is intentional about affirming what we’re doing well and stretching us in ways, that will pay off in the long run.

The Eagles will continue to work through their 32-game regular season schedule and will have their first dose of conference play this weekend as they compete in the UMAC Preview Tournament.

Athlete Profile: Shanay Gonder

Shanay Gonder

Gonder was awarded 1st Team All-Conference in 2015.

Year: Junior
Major: Public Relations
Position: Middle Hitter
Number: 11

Q: What sport would you play if you didn’t play volleyball?
A: My dad played professional basketball in many countries, so I would probably play basketball.

Q: What’s your pre-game song that gets you pumped up?
A: “Uncomfortable” by Andy Mineo, otherwise rap or house music gets me pumped.

Q: Do you have any pre-game superstitions or rituals?
A: As a team, we sing this song called “You are Exalted,” and we do this song before every game to remember who we are playing for.

Q: Do you have any sports-related horror stories? What has been your most embarrassing moment in your athletic career?
A: During a college volleyball game, I jumped up to swat the ball and as I was swinging, I completely missed and the ball hit me directly in the face.

Q: What professional athlete do you admire and why?
A: I admire Serena Williams because she is very feminine and strong at the same time and she looks very fashionable while she plays.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do besides your sport?
A: I am extremely passionate about being healthy. I will make fresh food and work out as often as I can. I am also interested in going to art museums and listening to different styles of music.

Q: If you could be part of another clique on campus, what group would you choose and why?
A: I would be a part of the FORCE clique because there are tons of great people in there and I am fascinated by different cultures.

Q: What would you change about UNW if you could?
A: The meal plan stipulation – the quality of food needs to increase and meal plans need to differ by preference because some people do not eat as much food as others or vice-versa.

Q: What is your favorite childhood toy?
A: When I was young, I had this Barbie karaoke machine. I still have withdrawals from not being able to sing with it anymore.

Q: Finish these sentences: “Behind my back people say…” “People are surprised when they hear…”
A: Behind my back people say, “That that girl eats a lot of fruit.” People are surprised when they hear that I’m from Australia and that I lived there until I was ten years old.

 

Volleyball team preparing for a winning season, embracing many new faces

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Junior Faith Vander Galien gave
her best effort to score against Morris (photo by Laura Taylor).

by Tiffany Stubbs

The University of Northwestern – St. Paul’s volleyball team has plenty of old and new talent to work with this fall, and the team is ready to soar to achieve its goals. The team only has five seniors, but great depth throughout the whole team.

Senior captain Jacki Smith said, “Our goals this year are to have a positive team culture, win the conference and make it back to the NCAA tournament.”

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