Coaching changes are usually difficult for incoming coaches, and while Jacki Smith’s tenure at Dordt is just beginning, the strong returning squad has made things a little less difficult.
Smith was named head coach of Dordt’s women’s volleyball program in March, and Smith said the transition had been a little crazy at times, but things were calming down as the Defenders got closer to their season opener.
“It was a bit chaotic on points, but since we dipped into our pre-season and got into a rhythm, we started to get used to each other, my style of coaching and their style. game and trying to merge them over the last two weeks,” Smith said. “It has become much easier. The chaos sort of dissipated I think, but it was a lot of fun.
Smith moves from training primarily in NCAA Division III to NAIA and GPAC, where Dordt is nationally ranked.
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The Defenders enter the season ranked 24th nationally and were selected seventh in the GPAC. A season ago, seven GPAC teams participated in the national tournament.
Smith said she knows the success story of Dordt’s volleyball program, but it’s not something her group has touched on so far in the offseason and preseason. Smith said she was more focused on each other than the rest of the conference and the country.
“We know the GPAC is fierce, we know the competition we’re going to face in California on our first two weekends is going to push us and impress us, but our goal is to compete with ourselves,” he said. said Smith. “So at the end of the season we may be able to maintain this ranking or beat it. We want to get into the national tournament and compete for a national championship at the end of the season, but we’re just trying to compete with ourselves and not necessarily think about that pressure.
The benefit of taking over the Dordt volleyball program this season is a plethora of returning experiences.
The Defenders are returning four of their top six forwards from last season, their two leading passers and four of the top five statistical leaders in digs. Having the returning talent that Dordt does makes the transition from coach to coach a little easier than it would be with a group of freshmen.
“These seniors are open to change, but I also try not to reinvent the wheel,” Smith said. “They’ve made connections, they’re also comfortable with the way they do certain things. So it’s great to have leadership, but also, they know what they’re doing on the pitch.
Back on the offensive side of things, Corrina Timmermans, the team leader last year with 304 kills and the two setters, Megan Raszler and Campbell Marshall. Grace Langemeier, Brenna Krommendyk and Danielle Vande Voort all return as players who have seen valuable time on the pitch as forwards.
For a defensive coach like Smith, she is thrilled with the return of Mia Gamet and Makenna Kooima. These two defensive specialists were big pieces of the defensive puzzle a season ago and will solidify the backline again this season.
“I’m thrilled that they’re both playing even bigger defensive roles for us,” Smith said. “I think Makenna Kooima’s role last year, at times, was on the pitch as a right-back and she is in transition and has really taken on the role of our back-row leader. We sort of see her as our libero starting next week and I’m really excited about her and what she brings, and Mia Gamet. Our defensive back line is something that excites me.
Smith’s emphasis on coaching is based on faith, she said, and she wants her group’s game to reflect that emotion. She said this team is talented, but it takes more than talent to win games.
“The most important thing I want us to take away from the season, and emphasize that, is that it’s not about one individual,” Smith said. “It’s about our team and how each person can raise the level of our team on a daily basis. And yes, we want to win a lot of games along the way, and certainly, I’m aware of the pressure of Northwest Iowa volleyball and Dordt volleyball, but I’m trying not to make it the thing who’s on the throne this season for us.”