After losing five starters, UND volleyball enters new league with a new look

GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota volleyball coach Mark Pryor isn’t anxiously awaiting the Summit League preseason volleyball poll, which will come out later this month.
“Don’t care,” Pryor said Tuesday afternoon as his team went through drills at Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. “We build for November.”
That’s been a winning recipe for the Fighting Hawks, who won back-to-back Big Sky Conference tournament titles to close out play in their old league.
As UND turns the page to a new era in the Summit, the volleyball program, too, is experiencing what Pryor calls “a talent overhaul.”
Five starters from a year ago are gone, including four-year stars Faith Dooley and Sydney Griffin.
This fall, Pryor and his coaching staff are wading through the process of finding a next generation of stars, leading up to the team’s first matches Aug. 24 against Rice and Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.
“We have the potential to be … I don’t know if we’ll be better offensively than last year, but we have the potential to be the same,” Pryor said. “We know that when you graduate five starters, there are question marks.
“I think some of the answers are becoming evident. It could be a little slow at first, maybe ugly here and there. We have to figure out some chemistry issues, but I honestly believe we have a lot of talent.”
All-Big Sky senior middle hitter Jordan Vail and junior outside Ashley Brueggeman are the returners with offensive experience, while junior libero Alivia Fraase and senior Tamika Brekke return from the back row.
But the five big departures from the 2017 team — Griffin, Dooley, Tamara Merseli, Teodora Tepavac and Julia Kaczorowska — played a big part in UND’s Big Sky record of 75-29 (six years).
Griffin, specifically, leaves an important void at setter. Those duties will be taken over by 5-foot-9 Roosa Rautio, a freshman from Rovaniemi, Finland.
“She’s very hungry and coachable,” Pryor said. “She does a really good job taking feedback.”
One other big addition this offseason was transfer Kayla Williams, a 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter from UConn. The Staten Island, N.Y., native led the Huskies in kills as a freshman and sophomore.
We knew when we graduated all those kids, we needed a good, experienced outside hitter,” Pryor said. “When we found Kayla, it was a perfect fit.”
After four road games to start the year, UND returns home for the UND Classic Aug. 30-31.
“I do think we’re going to be in pretty good shape if we can keep everyone healthy and keep everyone in the right mindset for what we need to do from a team standpoint.”