Photos By Tim Sanger, Randy Sartin and Lisa Venticinque
If you sit down and have a conversation with junior libero Kaylee Hanger, you may leave the conversation forgetting that the fall volleyball season was postponed. Despite not being able to compete for the better part of a year due to COVID-19, Hanger still holds a tone and attitude of a student-athlete in season. In fact, the prolonged absence of competition for Bison volleyball has seemed to motivate the team even more.
The Bison are coming off a 13-16 season in 2019 where Hanger led the Bison with 368 digs. The Millstadt, Illinois, native also notched a Summit League Defensive Player of the Week honor in her sophomore season. North Dakota State will welcome back all but two players from last year’s team when the season commences in the spring. With an established core group of players, the Bison are poised to succeed in the Summit League when the season does get played.
However, one cannot ignore the absence of fall volleyball in Fargo. The Bison fan may be sitting at home clamoring for an evening at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. That sentiment is no doubt felt throughout the entire college landscape. Despite there being no games this fall, there is still competition running rampant in the BBF on a daily basis.
So much so, that NDSU volleyball continues to improve, taking each day as a blessing. While the future may seem cloudy on paper, the Bison are ready to dominate at a moment’s notice. Hanger’s competitive spirit and attitude are an embodiment of that.
Hanger discusses the postponement of the volleyball season and how NDSU volleyball has rallied, adapted and pushed forward.
What has been the team’s mindset throughout the summer and into the fall knowing that a fall season was not a guarantee?
The biggest part was taking things day by day and we were able to get back in and workout with coach [Jason] Miller in the summer. That was something I think we all were really excited about. Being able to get back sooner than most people were able to was definitely uplifting. Once we were starting preseason, we just wanted to get right into it and focus on getting better each day and not worry about if the season was going to be in the fall or spring. Our minds weren’t really focused on that, but they were focused on getting better.
The roster did not see drastic turnover in the offseason and this team has been on campus together for some time now. Chemistry and strength seem to grow in the hardest of times. How has the team continued to build chemistry on and off the court in such uncertain circumstances?
It’s about accountability especially when we weren’t with each other all the time. We were always checking in and making sure we were doing what we needed to do to put ourselves in the best position coming back. Having each other and leaning on each other during tough times has been really big for us. Now, we’re getting back to focusing on the little things and pushing each other day by day.
On top of the little turnover your roster saw, you have brought in three freshmen. With this prolonged “preseason” time, has it been advantageous for you and the younger girls to get some extra practice time before actual competition?
When we did find out our season was going to be pushed back, our mindset became that we get to give these younger girls extra time to get into what we want to do and how we do things here. Working with coach Miller for that extra time has allowed us to get our bodies back to where we want them to be whenever we do go into a long season.
Having each other and leaning on each other during tough times has been really big for us. Now, we’re getting back to focusing on the little things and pushing each other day by day.
We’re living in a time where people (not just athletes) are having trouble motivating themselves to accomplish their goals. How do you and the team remain motivated?
Everyone needs to make sure they are focusing on themselves through the hard parts and not trying to overwhelm each other. It’s about staying positive and keep encouraging. There are obviously going to be tough days, especially now that we’re prolonging our ‘preseason’. Staying encouraged and giving small feedback and trying to get as much work in as we can.
This whole situation has really shown the dedication of NDSU student-athletes, coaches and administration. With the fall season being postponed and little clarity of a spring season right now, how do you and the team remain dedicated to your sport?
We have to keep our minds on our end goal and that is winning a Summit League championship. I don’t think that at any point during this pandemic, we have lost sight of that. That is really exciting to see. Keeping our minds on that part and getting work in before we start is key.