Spearfish, S.D. –The Black Hills State University volleyball team has returned to the court in search of a third consecutive Dakota Athletic Conference Title and third straight appearance in the NAIA National Volleyball Championships.

The Yellow Jackets went 24-12 (11-3 DAC) last season.  Black Hills State won six straight matches to end the season before falling to Doane in the first round of the NAIA National Volleyball Tournament.

First-year head coach Jennifer Weitzel takes over the reins of the program after former head coach Jhett Albers accepted the full-time athletic director position at Black Hills State.  Weitzel served as an assistant to Albers previously before being promoted to head coach.

“I am really looking forward to the challenges of this season,” said Weitzel.  “Coach Albers was a great mentor and he built a program here that has had success at the national level.  I had the opportunity to play for him and then be on the coaching staff with him.  Now, I have the chance to carry on what he started.”

The team loses five seniors from last year’s squad and will look to replace that leadership with senior outside hitter Maggie O’Neill.  Last season, O’Neill was named first-team all-conference by the Dakota Athletic Conference.

“There is no doubt that losing four all-conference players is going to hurt,” said Weitzel.  “I think that Kalin (Engle) and Maggie (O’Neill) are both ready for the responsibility though.  We need them to step up if the team is going to be successful this season.”

 “This year my role is to be a leader for this team,” said O’Neill.  “I hope to be someone that the younger players can look up to and see how much I love playing and we can build on that.”  O’Neill went on to say, “I am excited and a little scared all at the same time.  Stepping into the shoes of a team leader like Kristin (Engle) or Mandy (Brumfield) is a challenge.  I just hope to keep bringing momentum to practice every day.”

O’Neill commented on the transition of Weitzel becoming the head coach.  “I don’t see a change.  Coach Weitzel has been a part of the program for the last couple of years, right behind Coach Albers the entire way.  She has brought an energy to practice and everything is very fast paced.”

The Yellow Jackets will open their season on the road on Aug. 19-21 at the Azusa Pacific Tournament in Azusa, Calif.  Black Hills state will square-off against teams like Hope International, Biola, and Azusa Pacific.

“We have some stiff competition to start the season,” said Weitzel.  “The teams that we are playing in California will really challenge us.  These are good matches for us to learn and grow from.  It will be interesting to see how the team responds.”

“I am excited for our trip to California.  That will be a great way to start out the season with a highly competitive tournament,” said O’Neill.

Black Hills State was able to advance to the NAIA National Volleyball Tournament the past two seasons by knocking off Jamestown in the championship match of the Dakota Atheltic Conference Tournament.

“We want to win a third DAC title and go to the NAIA Tournament again,  We know what it takes to get there and what we have to do to get back,”  said O’Neill.

All sport season tickets are now on sale for the Yellow Jackets.  Tickets can be purchased by contacting John Kietzmann at (605) 642-6832 or via e-mail at John.Kietzmann@BHSU.edu.

For more information on Black Hills State Athletics, visit www.BHSUAthletics.com.

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