Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Head coach Mark Pryor and the Fighting Hawks make the move to the Summit League after tremendous success in the Big Sky.
Pryor At UND
2016: 26-10 (Big Sky Championship)
Record at UND: 103-40
Heading into your first season in the Summit League after years of success in the Big Sky, how do you transition that success to the new conference?
The word we are going to look for is reaffirmation. Regardless of conference, we need to reaffirm what type of program we want to be, what kind of individuals we want to be, how we are going to play and how we are going to treat each other. With a newer roster, really making sure we are focused on those things is important.
We can’t control what other people are going to do, that’s why it’s important that we’re rock solid in who we are and how we play and how we treat each other. If we do that, I think it gives us a shot even though it is the first year in the new conference. Nothing is guaranteed, but I think we have a real sense of identity regardless of conference and that’s going to help us compete.
Talk about the advantages of playing in the same conference as North Dakota State and all the other Dakota schools.
I think now that we’re together with the Dakotas and Omaha, that will do a lot for fan attendance. I think it’s going to do a lot of things on the court and off the court for the kids and the community.
This is a younger roster compared to past seasons with nine freshmen this year. How do you handle that amount of youth?
We have a young team, but what’s different is that we have four starters that are returning, and four starters who have started for the last two years. When you look at that, it really helps. We’re going to be young, but it’s not as young as people think. We actually have more overall athleticism on the team this year than the last two years. Now, our experience level is way behind, but the only way we get there is to throw them out there and see what happens. Our goal is to be good in November. That’s kind of been my mentality since I got here.
North Dakota was picked to win the Summit League in the preseason poll. How does your team handle that?
You can say whatever you want to say. When I was in college, I said I was going to take Tiffani Amber Thiessen from 90210 to fraternity prom. I worked hard on it and I had a good tux, a sweet ride, but it didn’t happen. I’m a phenomenal dancer, so why wouldn’t you want to go with me? But you can say all those things.
So, we really don’t look at it too much. I think we said it best after we got picked once: We don’t play on loose-leaf paper, we play on the court and that’s what matters.
You play some big Power Five games this season. Does your team get more fired up for those games against big-name opponents?
I don’t think there is a team in the Big Sky or the Summit League that had a tougher opening weekend than us. We played against two Big-12 teams on their home court. We kind of recognize that this is where we are. We’ve been able to knock off some teams but to beat those teams, you have to put them on the schedule. They take it as a badge of honor and we’re not going there just to play, but to see what we can do.
The great thing about volleyball is anything can happen when the postseason hits. You made the NCAA Tournament last season, how do you get back in 2018 and get a tournament win?
I think a lot of things have to happen. The Summit is a one-bid league, so we could go undefeated during the season, but if we don’t play well in the conference tournament, we’re done. If we can schedule some teams that we want to beat and raise our RPI, we might not have to play against a top-10 national seed. Is our body of work enough to warrant going somewhere besides Minnesota?
It’s a process. There are probably four or five teams that could win the Summit this year, I just hope we are one of those four or five.
Left: Jordan Vail, Senior; San Antonio, Texas; 2017 Kill Count: 311. Right: Ashley Brueggeman, Junior; Eden Prairie, Minnesota; 2017 Kill Count: 369
Senior Jordan Vail and junior Ashley Brueggeman return to North Dakota after a season that saw each of them rack up over 300 kills. As the new leaders of Fighting Hawks volleyball, they will look to push those numbers higher.
Moving into the new conference this season, how do you guys transfer your Big Sky success to the Summit League?
Vail: I don’t think we need to change anything. I don’t think we play a specific type of volleyball for the Big Sky conference. I would say we just need to keep doing what we do and take every opponent like it’s our first time playing them and not getting too far ahead of ourselves. Every opponent being equal and playing our way.
Brueggeman: Just focusing on our side and not any of the new teams we’re facing. Also, taking each team as it comes and maybe adjusting our positions on the court, but not changing how we play.
Is it going to be different for you, playing in a new conference with new conference foes? Especially North Dakota State?
Vail: Not so much for me, personally. When I play a team, I don’t see what school they’re from, I just see them as another team we have to get through. I really don’t attach a name or history to a team. For some people, it might be a little more pressure or different, but I just see each team as another team to get by.
Brueggeman: I think it will help the rivalry with NDSU. It makes it stronger, but also more fun too. As for the other teams, I don’t see it as totally different because when we travel, we’re not focusing on the city and all that, we’re focusing on ourselves.
You two are kind of the veterans of this group now, your team has nine freshmen this season. How important is it for you to pass on what you have learned here to the new girls?
Vail: I think it’s super important because when I got here my sophomore year, I really looked up to the seniors that season. So I think it’s important that we pass on what we know down to them. It’s different getting knowledge from a teammate than it is from a coach all the time. You connect with your teammates more.
Brueggeman: It’s the people that you are on the court with and struggle with. I also think it’s not necessarily about telling them what to do, but leading by example and showing them that way too. Showing them what is acceptable and what is not and how we do things around here.
Both of you are tremendous leaders on the court, what do you think is the most important leadership quality?
Vail: Work ethic and working hard. I would say that is something I have struggled with in the past and I just want other people to know that I am always working hard. That’s what I want people to take away from me the most.
Brueggeman: Leading by example. That’s how people see what we do around here. We’re going to work hard, we’re not going to let the ball hit the ground, we’re going to do everything to keep it going. One thing I have struggled with in the past is confidence on the court, it’s a huge impact on how you play.
The team was picked to win the Summit League this season in the preseason poll. How do you handle those expectations put on the team?
Vail: We don’t let it go to our heads. Obviously, it’s nice to be picked, but no one knows what is going to happen. We are going to have to prove ourselves in the new conference though. Once the season starts and we show up, it’ll speak for itself.
Brueggeman: It puts a target on our backs which is just going to make us work harder. We just need to kind of keep our heads down and keep doing what we’re doing.
Over 300 kills for the both of you last season, how do build off of that and improve in 2018?
Vail: Keep working hard and keep grinding. Also, not changing anything, we have a new setter, a new conference, but we don’t have to change anything because we were so successful last season.
Brueggeman: I don’t think there are huge changes that need to be made. But we don’t want to try and do too much. Not putting those individual goals and things like that above the team success.
Fighting Hawks Volleyball In 2018
- Currently 8-7
- Open Summit League play on Friday against Western Illinois.