Jackrabbit volleyball team builds chemistry during Brazil tour

By Andrew Holtan

The Brookings Register

Posted 7/8/24

As we move past the Fourth of July, the countdown to the fall sports season begins. For the South Dakota State volleyball team, they got some season experience last month during an offseason trip to Brazil.

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Jackrabbit volleyball team builds chemistry during Brazil tour


As we move past the Fourth of July, the countdown to the fall sports season begins. For the South Dakota State volleyball team, they got some season experience last month during an offseason trip to Brazil.

The volleyball team headed to Brazil on June 11 and spent the next eleven days in four Brazilian cities. The Jackrabbits spent three nights in Sao Paulo, three nights in Rio De Janeiro, one night in Saquarema and finished the trip with two nights in Arraial do Cabo.

This was the fourth foreign tour that head coach Dan Georgalas has been on, but it was the first for him with the Jackrabbits.

“The foreign tour was something that we had been saving for for the past three or four years,” Georgalas said. “The NCAA allows you to take a foreign tour once every four years and this was a vision and goal for a student-athlete experience that I was hoping to provide here at SDSU and we were finally able to go.”

The Jackrabbits played five matches during their trip and all five were five sets. Georgalas said the five matches were equivalent to a quarter of their season being played in 10 days. The highlight of the trip was going up against the Brazil U19 Junior National Team in two matches. The Jacks lost the first match in five sets but then bounced back with a five-set victory in the second match.

“I was very happy with the level of play that we showed, especially after traveling so far,” Georgalas said. “We played a mixture of some U19 and U21 club teams, but the two matches against the U19 [Brazil] Junior National Team in Saquarema were really fun.

“Obviously Brazil and the US are some prestigious volleyball countries and to see all of their trophies and be where their senior national team trains was cool. … The second match against the junior national team was the last match of the tour, so it was good to end the trip with a win and have some momentum going into August.”

SDSU was the fourth school to go on this Brazilian tour in 2024. The other teams included Samford, Wichita State and Arizona State.

The tour happens to come at a time for SDSU when it needs it the most as there are eight new players on this year’s team. That’s over half the roster that is new as the Jacks have seven returners. SDSU returns its top three attackers in Sylvie Zgonc, Katie Van Egdom and Sydni Schetnan, but lost their top assist getter Raegen Reilly to the transfer portal.

The transfers that joined SDSU include Rachel Wieber, a senior outside hitter/defensive specialist from Southern Utah. Sophie Johnson, a graduate student defensive specialist/outside hitter from Dordt College. Finley Westover, a sophomore outside hitter from Western Illinois. Alyssa Groves, a graduate student right side from Colorado State. The final transfer is Camryn Honn, a graduate student setter from New Hampshire.

Georgalas said being around each other on the trip built a lot of team chemistry and the Jacks will benefit from it when they open the season in August.

“The biggest benefit [of the tour] was just being around each other,” Georgalas said. “I mean, the team bonding, the chemistry, the volleyball, the social aspect. We got 20 extra days in the summer that we don’t normally get. The NCAA allows us 10 practice days in the summer and then the tour was 10 days. So, we got almost three weeks of extra time together in the summer time that NCAA rules don’t normally allow.

“[Going on this tour] gives me a lot of confidence [going into the season]. We have Cole [Aiazz], our new coach and Karly [Berkland], our new graduate assistant, so some new people on staff. We have eight new players on the roster, five of which are transfers and three true freshmen. We needed to get some people on the same page and I think this trip definitely did that for us.”

SDSU went 9-20 overall last season and finished the year with a 7-9 record in the Summit League. Four of those losses in conference play were in five sets. The Jacks also went 4-4 at Frost Arena last year but this season they’ll be playing in a new venue.

The bright side is the volleyball team will be opening First Bank & Trust Arena, but unfortunately they will have to wait until Oct. 3 to do so. SDSU will play all of its non-conference games away from Brookings and will play the Jackrabbit Invitational, a three-day event, at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls Sept. 19-21.

Georgalas said he and his players are excited to be the first team to play in the new venue and thinks that going on this tour will give his team a chance to put out a good product for the fans at First Bank & Trust Arena.

“You’re going to see a competitive advantage this fall [from going on the tour] and truthfully, there was a reason we timed the tour with the opening of First Bank & Trust Arena. We created a lot of momentum this summer and we plan on rolling that over into the unveiling of the new arena. We’re the first event in First Bank & Trust Arena on Oct. 3. Volleyball gets to be the soft opening before basketball season and we play Kansas City. We want to break our attendance record and unveil First Bank & Trust Arena the right way,” Georgalas said.