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Madison Jurgens

South Dakota's Madison Jurgens, a Diller-Odell graduate, has recorded 1,133 assists as a redshirt freshman.

Her team's NCAA Tournament ticket secured, Madison Jurgens pictured the possibility.

"They talked about Omaha, Lincoln or Minnesota," the Diller-Odell graduate said of the possible opening-round destinations. "I was definitely hoping for either Creighton or Lincoln."

When the NCAA volleyball tournament bracket was revealed Sunday night, South Dakota learned it was going to make the short trip to Omaha to play the ninth-seeded Bluejays.

For the Jurgens entourage, that means a nice two-hour drive.

"Most of my family is going to be there," Jurgens said. "A couple friends tried to get tickets (Tuesday), but they sold out. They were on at 12:01 and they already sold out. We're trying to figure it out."

South Dakota will be making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after defeating Denver in five sets for the Summit League Tournament championship. As the team's starting setter, Jurgens, a redshirt freshman, has played a key part in the run.

She has 1,133 set assists (an average of 10.49 per set), which ranks second in the Summit League. Her 37 ace serves lead the team, and her 277 digs rank third.

Against Denver in the conference tournament championship, Jurgens had 50 set assists and a season-high 20 digs.

Jurgens credits a strong start to taking a redshirt last season.

"I think last year was kind of hard at times not getting to compete all the time, but once I finally got into games (this year), especially the conference tournament toward the end of the season, it was really fun to finally put a year-and-half's worth of work into the game situations," said Jurgens, who received All-Summit League honorable-mention honors. "All that redshirting made it worth it for the moment.

"The last time I really competed in a team sport was basketball season in high school. That's crazy, it had been so long. To finally to get out and play a game, instead of competing in practice against ourselves, it was really, really fun."

Jurgens' redshirt allowed her to learn under Brittany Jessen, a three-time all-conference setter of the year, without losing a year.

It also allowed her to focus on the best part of her game. In high school, Jurgens did it all — hitting, serve/receive. In college, it's setting.

"Just the improvements that I've made, it's crazy," said Jurgens, who was a multi-year Super-Stater at Diller-Odell. "Coming in, I didn't think there would be that much room for improvement, but already I've seen so much of my game change. It's just that fact of being able to specialize in setting and focus on that."

Creighton and South Dakota will meet at 6 p.m. Friday at D.J. Sokol Arena. Friday's match will also be a homecoming for South Dakota junior outside hitter Elizabeth Loschen, an Omaha Marian graduate.

"The fact that it sold out so quickly, I think we all realized that it's going to be an amazing crowd there," Jurgens said. "We all realize it's pretty close for a lot of our players; we have a bunch of them from Iowa, too. We all realize we're going to have a really good fan base there. We always like to play on the road. For some reason, we play better on the road."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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