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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Kyle Vuille photo

DCC volleyball coach excited to build new program

By Eric Killelea

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

On Thursday, Dina Fritz told the story of how she became head coach of the resurrected women’s volleyball program at Dawson Community College.

Fritz had been a talented athlete in Circle who helped lead the volleyball team to win a Class A championship in 2007 and then again as a coach in 2016. Between that time, she played basketball for over a year at Miles City Community College and worked under John Marble as DCC’s assistant volleyball coach.

It was three months ago when Fritz – who had just resigned from her coaching post in Circle to focus on early childhood education – received a phone call from DCC athletic director Joe Peterson. Peterson had recently announced after a four-year break that volleyball would return to the college and he was searching for a coach to rebuild a competitive team.

“I was excited to take the position,” said Fritz, now 28. “But I got hired and I didn’t have a single player. It was challenging, but at the same time I found quality players that were in the shadows.” 

So, how is Fritz handling the responsibility of molding a team from scratch?

She started recruiting players in Montana. She approached former Wildcats standout Cierra Loudon, a 5-8 outside hitter who helped the Circle team place in three Class A state tournaments. Loudon was among several athletes who contacted DCC to ask whether the college was indeed creating a new volleyball team. 

“I took that list of players and worked against the clock, because most kids were committed elsewhere,” Fritz said.

Fritz eventually recruited nine Montanans to fill her 12-woman roster. Among those in-state athletes, she signed Sara Anderson, a 5-6 outside from Belt where she lettered in three sports. “She’s a strong outside hitter, who I’ve seen compete at different sports,” Fritz said. 

She then enlisted Channa Clarin, a 6-2 middle blocker from Beach, N.D. Fritz had coached Clarin’s older sister in Circle, and the younger Clarin would often join the team during summertime open gyms. “Channa is a phenomenal athlete,” Fritz said. She had scholarship opportunities when she graduated from Beach in 2015, but “she was already going to school at DCC and it fit perfectly.” 

Another out-of-state athlete, Ebonay Clark, a 5-9 middle from Denver, had submitted her highlight video. It turned out Clark’s friend had visited the college and mentioned that the school was kickstarting its volleyball program.

“Recruiting has worked really well,” Fritz said. “People have been supportive. It’s been word-of-mouth and coaches and players contacting me.”

Earlier this week, Fritz hired an assistant coach, Taylor Patterson, who played volleyball during Marble’s last season in 2013. 

 The coaches were given a limited purse to hand out scholarships. 

“It wasn’t a huge budget, but it was plenty for me to get the girls that I got and I don’t feel like I was short-changing anybody,” Fritz said. “The girls were happy to be playing and didn’t mind what was offered.” And with Peterson’s help, the coaches were able to purchase new volleyballs, practice tops and uniforms. Previously used nets and poles were already available.

The DCC team is now readying to compete in the Mon-Dak Conference and in the NJCAA Region XIII at the Division 2. Their conference includes opponents such as Bismarck State College, Dakota College Bottineau, Lake Region State College, North Dakota Colleges of Science and Williston State College.

The Lady Buccaneers start practice this Saturday. “They have been doing their own summer workouts and then we’ll begin three-a-day practices here,” Fritz said. “It sounds daunting. But the practices are spread out into lifting, skills and playing the sport. We’ll also have activities and team bonding activities for the evenings.” (Meanwhile, Fritz plans to continue working as a daycare provider in Circle, while finishing her online degree at DCC.)

As a 5-6 middle, Fritz knows how to play close to the ground. She has yet to coach a team with players over 6 feet and so learned how to cultivate a defensive coaching philosophy akin to Marble’s strategy. “I learned so much from John and the things that I do are the things he did or variations of them,” Fritz said. “My strength is defense because I’ve never really had tall girls in high school. But now it’s a little different because I have a little more height at the college level to work with.”

In college, a defensive philosophy usually means blocking. “In high school, I focused on passing – how to pick up the ball without touching on the block,” Fritz said, adding that the Lady Buccaneers have at least three players standing over 6 feet – talent unseen in most junior colleges. “Now I can focus on passing and blocking,” the coach noted.

Fritz added: “It’s going to be a learning year, but we’re going to be challenging some teams. Our strength is the overall group. The girls come from winning programs and know how to compete. They know how to think and react and their quick learners. There’s no, Me Before Team attitude. It’s going to be a learning year, but we’re going to be challenging teams that are very well established.”

The Lady Buccaneers are scheduled to scrimmage in a round-robin on Aug. 15 at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, then on August 18 at WSC. Their season opener is set against MCC for Aug. 22 at DCC. 

Reach Eric Killelea at rrsports@rangerreview.com.

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