Sunday, December 3, 2023

Trio of Tigers commit to NSIC schools for volleyball

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Photo by Jake McNeill: (seated, left to right) Brielle Riess, Morgan Bjella and Kennedy Drake sign their letter of intent to play volleyball next year at Minnesota State Moorhead, Minnesota State Mankato and Southwest Minnesota State respectively at Marshall High School on Monday morning. Standing behind the senior volleyball standouts are (left to right) assistant coach Kelly Jones, head coach Dan Westby and assistant coach Alex Boddy.

MARSHALL — Three Tiger volleyball players signed their letter of intent to play volleyball at the next level in Marshall High School on Monday morning, all of whom will be competing in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. All-State outside hitter Brielle Riess committed to playing at Minnesota State Moorhead, her All-State right-side counterpart Morgan Bjella committed to Minnesota State Mankato and libero Kennedy Drake will remain in Marshall to play across the road from her high school gym at Southwest Minnesota State.

Riess tallied 468 kills this season, placing her first on the state-champion Tigers and second among players on the Independent’s 12 area schools. She also finished the season with 228 digs and 33 blocks.

“I love the coaching philosophy and I love the teammates and then I just actually loved the school. It’s a good distance away and it’s just the right fit for me,” Riess said.

Bjella also had an outstanding senior season with her 307 kills placing her second on the team while also adding in 26 blocks. Both Bjella and Riess were named to the Class AAA All-Tournament team after winning their third consecutive state championship and they were both named to the Independent’s All-Area first team. Bjella also said that the team and campus culture were a big part of her decision.

In her first year at the libero position, Kennedy Drake thrived for the Tigers. Her 475 digs were first among Marshall players and third among area schools and she also added in 31 aces, earning her Independent All-Area second-team honors. Drake said she’s particularly excited to get to be a part of one of the top Division II volleyball programs, as the Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 5 in the country this season. She’ll also be reunited with former teammate Leah Jones, who graduated from Marshall in 2023 and was named the NSIC’s Freshman of the Year this season.

At the time of print, SMSU has a 23-6 record on the season. Their 14-4 record in conference play puts them behind only Wayne State and Concordia St. Paul in the conference standings.

Minnesota State went 14-12 this season just a year after finishing 6-22. Their 9-9 conference record placed them ninth in the NSIC. Moorhead went 7-20 and finished the year 13th in the conference.

“It’s exciting to know that there are so many of us that are going to the same conference and that maybe we’re not playing at the same school, but we’ll get to see each other next year across the net,” Bjella said.

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