Bekah Saugen’s family tree has a volleyball stuck in it.
More than one, apparently.
The junior outside hitter for Winona State University wouldn’t be here without the sport. Literally. Her parents met at a beach volleyball tournament, played a few games together and were married three years later.
“Of course, if I didn’t want to (play volleyball), I didn’t have to,” she said. “But I just loved playing.”
Her knowledge of the game has helped Saugen blossom into one of the best players in the NSIC and a big reason why the Warriors (13-2, 5-0) are atop the conference standings and on a 12-game winning streak, tied for the best in school history.
“What we look at Bekah to do is the benchmark of outside hitters,” Winona State coach Dave Simon said. “If you can be three-plus kills a game and three-plus digs a game, that’s an all-conference type performer. That’s where she was last year. We look at her to start off at that level and maybe even take it a little bit higher.”
Saugen got off to a great start this season, earning all-tournament honors at the season opening Bulldog Invitational at Truman State.
She had a double-double in three of the Warriors’ four games, averaging 3.19 kills and 3.69 digs — right where Simon wants her to be — per set while hitting .241.
Along with fellow hitters Kate Horihan — the NSIC player of the week — and Katie Froehle, Saugen has given the Warriors a dynamic hitting force and turned them into a contender for the conference title.
“It’s all about ball control,” said Saugen, who prides herself on being a complete player and values digs just as much as kills. “That’s always been my thing. That’s what our team needs and that’s big in this conference.”
Simon encourages Saugen to play with aggressiveness and rely on her instincts, most of which were drilled into her at a young age in her volleyball-happy family.
It started with her maternal grandfather, who was a coach. Her mother, Elizabeth, played NCAA Division I volleyball at Utah. Her father, Eric, played on the club team at the University of Minnesota. Her cousins won a high school state title in Arizona. And she won a state title as a freshman at Chaska High School, along with her older sister.
She started as a setter, but was asked in eighth grade to switch to hitter. She took to it immediately.
“My sister was a really good hitter,” Saugen said. “I really liked that aspect of being able to put the ball away and take control.”
Few do it better than Saugen, who leads the team in kills (162) and is third in digs (143).
But it’s not just Saugen who’s played well during the recent 12-game win streak. The whole team is playing with confidence, she said.
“We just have this vibe,” Saugen said. “We just know we are going to win. We have so much confidence in each other, that we go onto the court and we’re totally confident.”
Simon said that having veteran players like Saugen helps. There are three seniors and six juniors who took their lumps the past few years, but learned to play together.
“Our chemistry and communication is really strong,” Simon said. “I think that’s a product of them playing together some time. You can see the difference. Last year, they’d get into a tough situation and we weren’t able to get through it. This year, we’re in those same situations and because of the experience and the communication and the team bond, we’re able to work through it.”
The winning streak didn’t become a focus until last week when it was brought to Simon’s attention. Now the Warriors want to be the team that holds the record for consecutive wins.
And it would be a nice birthday present for Saugen, who turns 21 today but won’t have time to celebrate as she has “huge” exams on Friday and Tuesday, not to mention games against Bemidji State (3-9, 1-4) on Friday and Minnesota, Crookston (7-5, 3-2) on Saturday at McCown Gymnasium.
Making a little bit of history on her birthday weekend would be a pretty special present for Saugen.
“That would be really cool,” Saugen said. “But the bottom line is we aren’t worried about winning or losing. We just want to play our game. We know that if we play our game, we’re going to win. If we play our game and do what we need to do, the streak will happen.”