Ryan DeLong knows what it is like to coach the No. 1 NAIA volleyball team in the country, albeit for a very, very short time.
The second time around, he hopes, is for much longer.
Viterbo University, which has won 17 consecutive matches to start the season, moved up to the top spot in this week’s NAIA poll, which was released Tuesday. The only other time the V-Hawks reached the coveted No. 1 spot, well, it didn’t turn out so well.
“When we saw the No. 1 team (Hastings, Neb.) lose on Saturday, we figured this is what could happen,” DeLong of moving from No. 2 to No. 1 this week. “The last time this happened (No. 1, in 2015) the polls came out at 5 p.m. and we played at 6:30 and got beat.”
DeLong hopes the V-Hawks can remain in the No. 1 slot for more than 90 minutes this time around. Ironically, the team that bumped them from the top in 2015 — Dordt College of Sioux Center, Iowa — is the next team on Viterbo’s schedule.
The No. 1 V-Hawks host No. 7 Dordt at Beggs Gymnasium at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“They come from one of the best conferences in the country and have one of the best outside hitters in the country in Ema Altema, who is averaging 4-plus kills per set,” DeLong said. “She reminds me of Alicia Olson back in the day.”
Viterbo is led by three senior All-Americans — Natalie Geidel, Amelia Grahn and Baylee Gross — who were on that No. 1 team in 2015. Geidels ranks eighth in NAIA in kills per set at 4.2
“They were all on that team when we were No. 1 for that hour-and-a-half. We have great senior leadership, a lot of depth and three freshmen who are playing well, and keep getting better and better, for us,” DeLong said.
“Viterbo plays one of the toughest schedules in the NAIA, so to be unbeaten at this point says a lot. I did not think we would be, but we have faced adversity and have been able to come out of it, the right side of things, so far.”