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Lennox returns to state volleyball for first time since 1989

For the first time in 34-years, the Lennox Orioles are back at the state volleyball tournament. Overall, they’ve put forth a 19-10 record on the season. But throughout the last month, they’ve only lost three matches – two of which were to the six-time defending ‘A’ champs, Sioux Falls Christian.

This season was also the first year on the job for Lennox head coach Vanessa Gabel.

“That was my number one goal for the season, as a year one coach, was the culture needed to change,” Gabel explained. “We needed to get the attitudes in a positive way towards each other. It took a little bit, you know, we got that taken care of that and then we had to have grace for ourselves. It was about half the season to really make that turn, and a lot of people took notice of it.”

Lennox finished the regular season 4th in region 4A. They beat Tea Area in the first round of region play, but then had to go on the road to Canton in the SoDak 16 qualifying match. After upsetting the C-Hawks, they took down Groton Area in the SoDak 16 to qualify for state.

“It took a little bit to get going at the beginning of the season, so we dropped some games we shouldn’t have, so our points weren’t where they needed to be for seeding, which is ok, we kind of knew where we were,” stated Gabel. “We were looking forward to playing Canton in the regional playoff, and we had literally just played them a week before, but we were missing a few starters, so we were confident coming into that one. And then going up to play Groton, it was a long drive, but they were feeling pretty confident about it. We outsized them and out blocked them.”

Another component that makes the journey unique for coach Gabel is the fact that her husband Mel is an assistant on staff.

“We started coaching together in 1990 or 1991 in Alaska at a high school. We’ve coached college together, but it’s been a while. We quit coaching when our daughter went to play college volleyball, and she’s 30 now, so it’s been a while since we’ve gotten to coach,” Gabel said. “It’s been really great, we’re still married.”

The last time Lennox made it to the state volleyball tournament, March of ’89, the Berlin Wall was still up. It was also the same year that the first Game Boy was released.

“It’s the first time any of [these girls] have been able to go to state for any sport, outside of maybe track. It is a big deal,” Gabel exclaimed. “We had one girl comment in the regional playoff that she was on the bench, it was her turn to come out and she said “I’ve never seen this many people at a volleyball game,” so it’s a big deal for them.”

The city of Lennox gave the team a send-off on Wednesday morning with an escort out of town.

Lennox enters the state tournament as the No. 8 seeded team. They’ll play top seeded Sioux Falls Christian at 11 am MT on Thursday in the quarterfinal round. Watch live at

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.