When La Salle plays host to Saint Louis on Friday night, it will be facing the second-leading attacker in NCAA Division I.
They know her in the Atlantic 10, but outside that league Danielle Rygelski might be the best-kept secret in the country.
“She had carried an incredible load for us,” SLU coach Kent Miller said. “An incredible load. The entire gym knows who it’s going to.”
The 5-foot-11 senior outside (535 kills, 5.94/set) is second only to Alabama’s Krystal Rivers (535 kills, 5.99/set) and has been the A-10 player of the week five times.
What’s more, her team is on an upswing.
The Billikens had won four in a row and five of six before losing at league leader Dayton (at 24-1 sporting the best record in the nation) last Friday.
Saint Louis is the healthiest it’s been this season and its 12-13 overall record might be deceiving. The Billikens are 7-3 in the A-10 and would be considered the favorites in their four remaining matches before being the host for the league’s championship tournament November 18-20.
“We’re learning things we can improve on quickly,” Rygelski said. “I think consistency is a big one that we need to improve but our energy and how close we are sets us apart from other teams.”
In 2013 the product of St. Charles, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, was the A-10 rookie of the year. She led the team with 33 aces and averaged 3.78 kills per set.
As a sophomore, Rygelski led the team with 3.62 kills per set, 2.34 digs, and 33 more aces. And last year, she made the A-10 first team and led the league with 492 kills and 59 aces.
Rygelski cited two things for her improvement: “Consistency and not making a lot of errors, keeping balls in play and not making radical errors — I did that a lot my freshman year — I’ve learned when to put balls to good spots and that even if it’s not a kill it puts the other team out of system. And the other thing is the amount of strength I’ve gained. Being in the gym all the time and working out.”
Rygelski said she really enjoys weightlifting and her opponents would attest to the results.
She is second on the all-time SLU kills list with 1,820 (second among all active NCAA DI players) and needs 15 kills to have most kills at SLU in the rally-scoring era. That’s likely to happen on Friday.
“I never really expected this,” Rygelski said. “I had a good season last year and obviously wanted to have a good season this year and make an impact and leave an impact, so I’m doing everything I can. But I never would have thought I would have been at the top of the list for kills and kills per set.
“It’s pretty cool.”
Rygelski is also second on the SLU list in aces with 165. She’s second in the NCAA in aces this season with 40 and it’s not all about offense: She needs three digs to get to 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her career.
“Danielle is an extraordinary outside hitter playing even beyond our expectations,” Miller said. “She’s been described as a fearless attacker by coaches of top programs we’ve played. And I think this has been her strongest attribute.”
Rygelski has the top kills performance (31 against George Mason), second-best (29 against Davidson), fifth-best (26 against Illinois State) and 10th-best (24 against GW) three-set kill totals in the NCAA this season.
Only 10 players in the nation have had more than 1,200 swings this season. Rygelski is sixth with 1,250. Her arm, she said is fine. But there’s that knee that had ACL surgery her senior year in high school.
“My shoulder’s fine,” she said with a laugh. “My knee is what hurts the most. It’s always hurting a little big. Knock on wood, I’ve never had shoulder problems.
When it came down to it, as a senior at Francis Howell High School, Rygelski whittled her college choices to SLU, Valparaiso and Miami, Ohio.
“I’m very close to my family and I wanted them to be able to see everything they could,” she said.
Her family will have plenty of opportunities, as SLU has two more home matches before the A-10 tourney.
“The rest of the season looks pretty good and I’m really excited,” she said. “The A-10 tournament is at SLU and that’s really good.
“It should be a good atmosphere.”