BROOKINGS – After a hot summer, the South Dakota State volleyball team returns to the friendly confines of Frost Arena Tuesday when the Jackrabbits report to training camp in preparation for their 52nd season.
With five starters, five letterwinners and nine newcomers, including eight freshmen, on the roster, third-year head coach Nicole Cirillo and her staff are excited about the upcoming season. But with so many new faces, getting the team on the same page is top priority during training camp.
"With so many new people, there will be many challenges ahead of us. With more than half of the team being new, a great opportunity comes to change what Jackrabbit volleyball is. Everyone on this team knows the expectations and signed up for the challenge, and this team is here to make a big impact," Cirillo said.
As the lone senior on the team, libero and defensive specialist Ellie Benson understands that getting the newcomers comfortable and moving forward with what the coaching staff wants is her job this season.
"I'm excited to finally have everyone back in Brookings. As a senior, I know how important team chemistry is and I'm looking forward to getting everyone adjusted and ready for season," Benson said.
As the team's libero last year, Benson, who started all 31 matches, led the team with 4.54 digs per set. She joins four juniors, two sophomores and eight freshmen.
The defensive corps includes Benson, junior Megan Jensen, and freshmen Kari Brucker and Madison Maras.
Jensen earned second-team All-Region XI-A and second-team all-conference honors at Iowa Lakes Community College. She averaged 3.41 kills and 3.74 digs per set and collected 32 service aces and 40 total blocks.
Brucker returns to the court after missing her senior season in high school with an injury. As a junior, she recorded 111 kills, a .202 hitting percentage and 178 digs as an outside attacker for Tri-Valley High School in Illinois.
Maras finished her career at Windom High School in Minnesota with a .227 hitting percentage, 626 kills, 199 service aces, 877 digs, 61 solo blocks and 59 block assists.
Junior Mattison Munger returns as the starting setter. She averaged 8.99 assists per match and 2.6 digs per set. Rookie Maddie Fay will push Munger after finishing her high school career with 2,191 set assists, 110 service aces, 483 digs and 80 block assists at Iowa City West High School.
In the middle, redshirt freshman Fiona Harding is back after a season-ending injury in 2016. Joining her are junior transfer Payton Richardson, and freshmen Macy Smith and Erin Cutts.
In high school, Harding recorded more than 300 kills and hit .330 as a senior.
Richardson spent her first two seasons at Kentucky State, where she earned 2016 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference second-team all-league honors, and averaged 2.2 kills and 0.51 blocks per set.
Smith concluded her high school career with over 800 kills, 300 digs, 70 service aces, 90 solo blocks and 250 block assists. She averaged 2.48 kills per set while hitting .402 at Spirit Lake High School in Iowa.
Cutts hit .378 with 148 kills and collected 41 solo blocks at Osceola High School in Wisconsin.
On the outside, junior Sierra Peterson, and Summit League All-Freshman Team picks and sophomores Makenzie Hennen and Ashlynn Smith return as the Jackrabbits' top attackers; and freshman Brie-Anna Armstrong joins the trio.
Peterson, who played in the middle due to injuries at that position last year, averaged 1.41 kills per set and posted a .214 hitting percentage. She is also the Jacks' top blocker, collecting a team-leading 59 total blocks last season.
Hennen averaged 2.26 kills and 0.43 blocks per set in 2016. Smith hit a team-high .224 with 1.45 kills and 0.55 blocks per set.
Armstrong recorded more than 500 kills and 190 solo blocks in her last two seasons at Holy Cross High School in Texas.
Playing on the right side is rookie Hanna Jellema. She finished her career at Brandon Valley High School with 615 kills, 108 service aces, 179 digs and 88 block assists, while hitting .304.
South Dakota State opens the season at the Panther Invitational on Aug. 25-26 in Milwaukee, Wis. It marks the 12th season SDSU has started the season on the road at a tournament. In addition to the host Panthers, the Jackrabbits face Virginia Tech and Idaho State.
The home opener is Sept. 1 when SDSU hosts the Hampton Inn Jackrabbits Invitational. It plays CSU-Bakersfield at 7 p.m. the first day and then Valparaiso and Northern Arizona Sept. 2.
The Jackrabbits play their annual Alumni scrimmage Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. in Frost Arena.