WEST FARGO — The upperclassmen on this year’s West Fargo Sheyenne volleyball team wanted to make sure everybody felt included and welcome. Senior defensive specialist Lydia Stevenson says that in past years, the upperclassmen have tried to intimidate the younger players, but she wanted to change that mindset.

“When I was younger, I didn’t want to feel like that,” Stevenson said. “So I didn’t want anybody else to feel like that. I thought, ‘What happens if we’re just all friends and nobody is scared or intimidated by anybody else, if there’s no competition between anybody?’ I think that really helps. We’re all really close and we get along. That definitely helps our chemistry on the court.”

That chemistry has turned into the Mustangs’ super power as they jumped out to a 5-0 start in Eastern Dakota Conference play and a 9-2 record overall. They say their communication on the court is their greatest strength. Each player on the court has full trust in their teammates to execute their job. That frees them up to focus on their own game instead of worrying about what their teammates are doing.

“Our biggest thing that we’ve been working on this season is trust,” junior outside hitter Khloe Brown said. “That’s our word for this season. I feel like we really bring that up. It starts in practice. When things are going bad or a drill is going as we want it to, we really try to focus and come together and try to trust in our teammates and rely on each other.”

That trust showed up in the Mustangs’ come-from-behind, five-set win over Fargo North last week. The Spartans won the first and third sets and had a chance to finish Sheyenne in four sets, but the Mustangs battled back. Sheyenne ran away with the fourth set 25-15 and closed it out 15-11 in the fifth set. They wanted to win for each other.

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“You can tell a difference. There is a switch flipped,” Stevenson said. “When everybody is in it, everyone is louder, the play is faster. You can just tell in the eyes, in everyones eye’s you see that drive to get the ball, to pound it.”

The comeback against North was the first time Sheyenne faced adversity in the conference schedule. They started EDC play with blowout sweeps over Devils Lake and Grand Forks Red River and then beat West Fargo in four sets. Having that experience of battling back from behind will help them down the road as they face tough opponents in big games.

“Any time you have to face those situations with some adversity, that really shows the character of your team,” Sheyenne coach Leah Newton said. “I think what it showed of our team has that trust in each other to do their jobs and that team-first mentality. To experience that and to come back from behind, that says a lot about the girls and what they’re willing to do to keep getting better.”

The Mustangs have a strong attack with players who can put the ball away from the front row throughout the lineup.

Junior Kailee Waasdorp has been strong on both offense and defense for Sheyenne, routinely pushing for double-digit kills and digs. Brown is a strong right-side block and tallied four blocks against North and six against West Fargo and has offensive ability as well, tallying 10 kills against Red River. Junior outside hitter Reagan Bogenreif has stepped up with multiple double-digit kills performances this sesaon.

“We have some really powerful hitters all around,” Stevenson said. “I don’t think that any of us are one specific powerhouse at like outside or right side or middle. It’s everybody just wanting to smack it on the ground. That is really special and you don’t really see that a lot where you’ve got a great block and when we do get the ball, it’s down.”

The Mustangs are happy with their early-season success, but they want to build on it as they progress through the regular season and into the postseason. Newtson says it is important they continue working hard and striving to improve if they’re going to make a run later this year.

“We have a lot of potential and it’s still early in the season,” Newton said. “We can’t be satisfied with where we’re at right now. We’ve got to get in the gym everyday and recognize that we can still get better.”