VERMILLION — Out of disappointment has come a new challenge for the South Dakota volleyball team.
With their goal of securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament snuffed out during Sunday night’s selection show, the Coyotes were given new life.
It’s an event called the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC), and USD will get to play one or two matches — and potentially more — on its home floor.
Sure, the disappointment is still fresh, but the Coyotes (27-2) are embracing the opportunity in front of them, according to head coach Leanne Williamson.
“We talk a lot about the ‘what’s next?’ mentality, and we have an opportunity now to continue playing, and that’s ultimately what this team wanted more than anything,” she said Monday.
South Dakota was selected as one of eight hosts for the first two rounds of the 32-team NIVC, which is in its third year. UNLV (19-10) and Kansas City (17-11) will play Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center, followed by the Coyotes and Central Michigan (21-8) at 7 p.m.
The two winners will then meet Friday at 2 p.m.
It’s not exactly as USD had planned two weeks ago when it was gearing up for the Summit League tournament (the top-seeded Coyotes lost in the semifinals), but this postseason event has afforded the Coyotes a second season.
“We obviously hoped we’d make the NCAA, but we’re excited to hopefully make a good run and play in front of our fans again,” senior Elizabeth Loschen said Monday.
And right there, that’s a silver lining to Sunday’s disappointment.
The Coyotes could potentially play a handful of matches in the NIVC at home — on a court where USD is a perfect 10-0 this season and has won 14 straight.
“The fact that we get to play at home makes this more of an exciting opportunity,” Loschen said. “We’ll get to show our fans again how we play and how much fun we have out there, and that’s what we’re really excited about.”
That kind of perspective from a veteran team — the Coyotes returned a handful of players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad — has allowed USD to embrace the NIVC instead of allowing Sunday’s disappointment to linger, according to Williamson.
Especially from the seniors on the roster, she added.
“They just really want to keep playing; they didn’t want their career to be over,” Williamson said.
“They’ll set the standard for how this team attacks this week.”
As Loschen pointed out, the NIVC can also provide the Coyotes with a chance to make a statement to a national audience.
“It’s a lot of mid-major teams, so it gives us a chance to prove that we’re one of the top mid-major teams,” Loschen said. “Maybe it’ll show that we should’ve been in the NCAA.”
Of course, that’s not USD’s ultimate goal with the NIVC.
With the season to this point and any potential success in the postseason tournament, the Coyote brand is going to grow nationally, according to Williamson.
“This season, a lot of people have started to learn more about South Dakota and about this team, and I think going forward, people are going to be more aware of us,” she said.
The third round of the NIVC will be played Dec. 9-12, with the semifinals set for Dec. 13-15. The tournament’s championship match will be held Dec. 16, 17 or 18 at a campus site.
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