“We love her to death,” Emily Minnick said.
“I could talk for hours and hours about everything she has done for our program,” head coach Kari Thompson said.
Minnick, Thompson and the rest of the No.4-seed North Dakota State volleyball team is ready to help Jenni Fassbender steal one more accolade from the Summit League, and it all starts 5 p.m. Friday against No. 5-seed University of South Dakota.
“It’s kind of scary knowing that the end is near,” Fassbender, the lone senior, said.
Fassbender has been a star on the volleyball court for NDSU and learned quickly how to be the “team mother” starting her sophomore year.
She was Thompson’s first recruit. When Fassbender was starting her sophomore season, there were eight freshmen on the roster and the team finished 6-22; NDSU was rebuilding.
A year later in 2013, Fassbender and Thompson continued to work with the underclassmen, and the team improved by nine wins and won one Summit League tournament match.
Two years later, now Fassbender’s last season as a student-athlete, NDSU finished the regular season with a 19-11 record, a conference record of 10-6 and the No. 4-seed in the tournament.
Thompson’s pieces finally fell into place.
“It feels really good,” junior middle blocker Emily Miron said Wednesday before the Bison started its last practice before the postseason tournament. “This year I think is the year more than any other previous years that we feel good going into the conference tournament.”
NDSU may feel good heading into its first match, but the game will be as difficult as walking through NDSU’s campus in the winter … don’t slip.
The Herd is riding a four-game winning streak into the tournament. And the green and gold have only lost two sets in its last 14.
USD (14-15, 8-8 Summit League) is the last team NDSU lost to.
“We are hungry to play USD again,” Thompson said. “We’re really excited about that; we’re not happy about how we went and played down there at their place, so for me I don’t think I could ask for a better first round match up.”
When the Coyotes came to Fargo earlier this season, NDSU beat them 3-1, but when the Bison traveled to Vermillion, S.D. on Halloween, USD shut them out 3-0.
USD has a fair amount of lefties on its team, and the Bison have had a hard time simulating for that this week because of NDSU’s right-handed dominance.
Minnick said that’s the only challenge heading into the match.
Only challenge or not, NDSU has life for the first time since the 2011 season when they made it to the NCAA Tournament.
If the Bison don’t make it to the Championship game, Thompson will make the team stay until the final match of the tournament, and even though Minnick likes that the fifth year head coach does that, the junior wants to be playing on the court for the final tournament match with her teammates, but especially with Fassbender.
“I mean, we’re just trying to play our hearts out while we still have her here,” Minnick said about Fassbender. “It’s going to be hard seeing her leave, but she’s molded us to be the players we are.”