Valley City State volleyball gets to NAIA tourney for first time

Nov. 21—VALLEY CITY, N.D. — A few years ago, JayCee Richter wasn't too happy when Sadie Hansen was on the volleyball court.

The Linton/HMB Class of 2022 grad changed her tune after they got recruited to the same collegiate program.

"When I was in high school I played against her and I always thought she was so good," Richter, a current member of the Valley City State University volleyball team, said of Hansen. "She is an unbelievable setter, and she works as hard as she can for every practice and every game. She does a great job being an offensive threat as well, and she will dig any ball that is near her. I am really glad to be on the same side of the net as her now. I love playing with her because she is very smart and a great team leader."

Hansen, an Oakes High School Class of 2021 grad, was named the North Star Athletic Association Setter of the Year last week.

As a freshman, Hansen appeared in all 32 matches the Vikings played. As the starting setter, she tallied 1,027 assists for an average of 8.42 per set. On the defensive side of things, she accounted for 346 digs. In her first season with the Vikings, Hansen was credited with 70 kills. She also racked up 20 aces from the service line and scored a whopping 102 of the Vikings' total points. At the end of the 2021 season, she was named 2nd Team All-Conference.

Her sophomore season followed a similar pattern.

In 25 matches, Hansen notched 964 assists, upping her assists per set average from 8.42 to 9.18. She became more aggressive at the net, notched 85 kills and was responsible for 10 of the Vikings' aces. As a defender, she was pretty solid, making 329 digs. She was named the NSAA Player of the Week once and was selected as an AVCA Honorable Mention All-Region selection.

Hansen has upped the ante in her junior year.

In addition to her eight NSAA Setter of the Week mentions, the three-year starter for the Vikings was also named to the NSAA First-Team All-Conference team for the first time in her career.

Since the start of the collegiate season, Hansen has been responsible for 80 kills, 1,185 assists, 320 digs, 41 blocks and 15 aces — all numbers she doesn't really care about.

"Ever since I realized what sports meant to me, I have said that 15 years from now I want to be remembered as a kind and respectful individual," Hansen said. "No one will remember that I got Setter of the Week or what my stats were while I played. I have personal goals for myself, but I'm more concerned about how I want the team to finish and the mark we leave on VCSU volleyball and the college."

The mark Hansen and her team are leaving will be hard to erase.

For the first time in multiple seasons, the Vikings have won more than 20 games. As of Nov. 20, the Vikings' record stands at 23-9. On Nov. 14, it was announced that the team would face Central Methodist University in the opening round of the NAIA Volleyball Tournament after earning its first bid to the national tournament in program history.

VCSU defeated Central Methodist 3-1 on Nov. 18. With the win, the Vikings have advanced to the NAIA Pool Play round in the National Volleyball Championship Tournament for the first time in program history. The NAIA National Tournament will be held Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

"I think we are doing well because we are all having fun and working as hard as we can," Richter said. "Everyone has been putting in the work during practice and listening to what the coaches have to say. My goal is to keep working hard and be the best I can for my team."

Richter, a former player for Linton/HMB and the Vikings' starting libero, was named the NSAA Defender of the Week for the fourth time this season a couple of weeks ago. The Vikings anchor in the back row has helped to keep the defense steady. Prior to the match against Central Methodist, Richter accounted for 42 assists, 536 digs and 22 aces.

"JayCee is a remarkable person and athlete," Hansen said. "I remember her coming to summer camps coming into her freshman year and just being a worker. She would be the first to help with anything, and I knew she would make a difference here by her work ethic and determination. She's so deserving of the honors she gets, and I'm truly blessed to play with her and call her a friend."

While Richter is doing what she can in the back row, her teammates Bailey Nelson, Danielle Hagler and Morgan Freije are absolutely dominating at the net.

Nelson, a 6-foot senior, just picked up her third-straight 1st Team All-Conference honors a couple of weeks ago. The outside has pounded 329 kills on a .248 hitting percentage — the fourth-best in the NSAA. She has also accounted for 57 digs and 35 blocks for the Vikings.

Hagler's 1st Team All-Conference honors were a first for her. The sophomore, a native of Cando, North Dakota, is averaging 2.7 kills per set this season and is boasting a hitting percentage of .349 to rank her second in the conference. She has put 265 kills and 95 blocks on the books.

Freije, also a sophomore and former Class B player, earned a 2nd Team All-Conference bid. As of Nov. 16, the Langdon/AEM native has accounted for 237 kills and 91 blocks.

The talent has been there in Valley for years, it's just been a matter of getting the right people to make it come together.

In June of 2023, the Vikings hired first-year head coach Michelle Meiklejohn — a former assistant at Mayville State University and longtime North Dakota volleyball enthusiast.

"Our coaches have made the biggest difference," Hansen said. "They're amazing people. I would like to add that our fan sections at home with the community and campus coming to games help us bring energy which we appreciate. Our parents are a significant part of their support of away games. We knew we had the personnel to do some great things this year, but it comes down to leaning on each other for guidance and trust to get the job done.

"Now, I just want to win with my team and make some noise for VCSU Volleyball," she said.