Photos By Hillary Ehlen
You may not meet a more wholesome and kind duo of Division I student-athletes than Bison juniors Emily Halverson and Alexis Bachmeier. They’re willing to carry on a normal conversation with you at any given time. Conversations could be about Emily’s summer work arranging flowers for Prairie Petals here in Fargo and her plans to arrange a friend’s wedding in the next year. All that talk of weddings leads to Bachmeier discussing her ideal wedding venues, a list that may or not be eight deep at this point.
At one point on this day, they even pondered going into business with one another after graduation. It’s not the first time the idea has been brought up, but they begin to discuss the notion a bit more on an early October morning inside the Bentson-Bunker Fieldhouse. Their personality no doubt stems from their Midwestern upbringings (Halverson from Iowa, Bachmeier from Fargo).
This illustrates a few things, one being the friendship the two hold. This is chemistry that runs throughout the Bison volleyball program. Secondly, it shows that the two do not feel the need to talk volleyball all the time. There was little mention of the sport outside of the interview questions asked of them.
That is a breath of fresh air.
However, when it comes time to play, either in practice or a match, the flip gets switched. Gone are the conversations of flower arrangements and wedding planning, it is time to compete and improve. One could say both Halverson and Bachmeier have upped their level of play from last season and transitioned into real stars on the court for Jen Lopez and North Dakota State.
One could see the budding stardom of Halverson dating back to her prep days. She possessed the physical traits to be a successful middle hitter immediately for the Division I school who recruited her. The 6-foot-3 Halverson was a standout at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City, Iowa. She was an all-conference second-team selection in her career and helped lead Iowa City West to three consecutive 5A state tournaments in her sophomore, junior and senior season.
Because of that success and her physical attributes, Halverson played in 22 matches for the Bison during her freshman season in 2017. She then played in all 29 matches last season and a whopping 111 sets. Through her first two seasons on campus, Halverson has racked up 247 kills, 170 blocks, 358.5 total points and a .237 hitting percentage.
At this point in the season, Halverson is already looking to set career highs in all of those statistics as Summit League Tournament time draws near. She currently has 174 kills on the season (at stellar a .317 hitting percentage no less), 62 blocks and 216 total points. That versatility as a middle hitter is something Halverson has focused on over the course of her career at NDSU.
“It’s something we have been talking about as a group of middles lately. It’s just always being up and what that means is we transition so that we can always be up for our setter and we’ll either hold a block or get set,” Halverson said. “We just always want to be available for the ball whether we get it or not and that’s our main focus. That is what helps us stay versatile and be able to get those blocks and get up and attack.
What has aided Halverson in her success so far this season is the chemistry with her teammates on and off the floor. The Bison only graduated one senior last season in McKenzie Burke, meaning that almost the entire roster returned for 2019. With the addition of three freshmen, the Bison have picked up where they left off from a team chemistry standpoint.
“Since we only graduated one senior last year in McKenzie [Burke], we didn’t lose that many people. We’re a very tight-knit group since we’ve been playing together for so long and we only have three freshmen this year and honestly, the coaches recruited them very well too,” she said. “They fit right into the team and it’s great because we are friends on and off the court. When we’re playing together it’s like playing next to your best friend.”
With the Summit League slate in a fever pitch and tournament time on the horizon, Halverson wants to see the Bison improve each day. “Our main focus right now is stacking days and doing a little bit better at practice each day. Having those will turn up in the game results. We want to try to be a little bit better the next time we step on the court,” she said.
There is no debate that North Dakota State volleyball has a bright future. While this year’s result has yet to be determined, the Bison only graduate one senior again this season. Meaning, that a host of returners will be back for 2020. Halverson has aspects of her game she wants to work on over the next year, but 2020 is certainly not her focus at the moment.
“Personally, I would like to see general improvements overall. I think one area I would like to improve in is hitter-setter connections. Those are really coming along nicely and once we have another spring under our belt, those are going to be really solidified,” she said. “As a team, we have a really good work ethic and everybody shows up and practices really hard. So I think if we keep working at that, the skills will fall into place and freshmen will start to step up. I see a lot of good coming in the future.”
If one were to comment on how physically imposing Halverson is, the same may not be said for the junior Bachmeier. A Fargo North High School graduate, Bachmeier is listed at just 5-foot-9 on the Bison roster. She will admittedly tell you that she is actually 5-foot-8, which is well below the average for an outside hitter.
Because of that, Bachmeier was not heavily recruited throughout her Spartan career. Although she was a three-time all-state and all-conference player, her height turned some coaches away. However, Bachmeier only had one school on her list from the beginning and that was North Dakota State. All she had to do was get the Bison coaches to her high school games.
“I wasn’t even scouted that heavily because I knew that NDSU was my school. It was my dream school and that was option A. I worked super hard to get here and get my name to the coaches. Eventually, they started coming to the games and now I’m here,” Bachmeier said.
The reasoning behind Bachmeier’s insistence on NDSU? Her family ties to the school. She has two relatives enshrined in the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame and in all, has 19 relatives that have attended North Dakota State. Carrying on that family legacy was important in choosing her school.
“My parents were huge Bison fans and to carry on the tradition of the Bachmeiers was really special to me. You don’t really see that anywhere else either, there is just a long line of legacy in my family. It just made total sense for me to come here,” she said.
Playing in 23 matches as a true freshman, Bachmeier finished the year with only 10 kills. In her sophomore effort, she exploded, racking up 249 kills and 303.5 total points. Her performance in 2018 landed her on the Summit League preseason watch list in 2019. Bachmeier has not fallen short of that recognition as the season has gone along either. She currently leads NDSU with 270 kills (with a .126 hitting percentage) and 309.5 total points.
“I think I just developed a little bit more confidence in the offseason. I told myself this year ‘you’re a 5-foot-8 hitter, just go up and some damage’,” Bachmeier said of her improvement in 2019. “My coaches have been telling me to swing away at the ball and that’s all I’ve been doing is swinging away.”
But how does a 5-foot-8 hitter succeed? Especially when blockers in collegiate volleyball are well over 6 feet tall? For Bachmeier, it’s less about physical attributes and more of a mental contest.
“When I step on the court, I try to envision myself as big as them and I try to tell myself that I am as big, as strong and as fast as them. Then, I try to go do those things, being big and being great,” she said. “My teammates are really awesome about hyping me up and putting me in good situations where I can see the court really well and see the big hands in front of me.”
While the mental part of killing is her focus, it is also worth noting that Bachmeier possesses a stellar leaping ability. Thanks to this, she can elevate to the level of taller blockers and hitters in the NCAA.
Like Halverson said, chemistry aids in success on the court. The same opinion is held by Bachmeier, who loves being around her teammates and coaches. “We’re all each other’s best friends. We love hanging out with each other, love to joke around. You can ask our coaches, we never shut up, ever,” she said. “We’re always talking, always communicating and love one another. At the same time, we always have each other’s backs so the chemistry is super strong and close-knit.”
The Summit League is a wide-open conference on a nightly basis. Any team regardless of conference rank can take down another. Simply look at NDSU’s upset win over Omaha in the Summit League Tournament last season as evidence. With tournament time near, Bachmeier knows the importance of team performance.
“We have a saying on our team that whoever shows up that night is going to win the game. Rankings don’t really matter in the Summit League because the results are so random. We just know that whenever we step out onto the court, we have to win that game,” she said. “The goal is to prove that we can work as six people together, not six individuals. That is one thing our coaches have really been hitting home, work as a team and not as an individual.”
As that time comes, Bachmeier wants to improve upon things that will make her teammate’s jobs easier. “Servicing is definitely something that I can work on. If we get really good at that, my teammates are going to be in a lot better situations. I just want to make sure I get better contact and that’ll be better for my teammates,” she said.
While the future is hard to ignore, Bachmeier is ready for this team to take the next step right now in 2019. “We really just take it day by day, practice by practice, game by game. Obviously, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves because when that happens in sports, it starts to snowball and you’re no longer in the moment, you’re not present,” she said. “When we can all collectively remember as a team to win the day or practice, that’s when we’ll be successful. We’re focusing on how we can be great at this moment because that will set us up for future greatness.”
The art of killing a volleyball and scoring takes physical and mental discipline. Juniors Emily Halverson and Alexis Bachmeier understand the art of the kill and they show it on a match to match basis. However, when the nets are down and the volleyballs put away, the art of the kill is the least of their worries. They would rather discuss their future business endeavors with one another.
That is what makes them special student-athletes at North Dakota State. Not for what they do on the court, but what they are off the court: wholly and unashamedly them.