Paige Ammerman left no stone unturned in her search for a proper fit when it came to playing college volleyball.
The Durango High School senior signed a National Letter of Intent to play for NCAA Division II Minot State University in North Dakota during Wednesday’s early signing day. For the Demons’ star center, it came down to the feeling she had during a visit to the school to meet the team and head coach Dana Cordova-Jacobson, a Coloradan originally from Trinidad.
“It feels like a home away from home,” Ammerman said. “I went up there. The coach knew the Durango area, and she knew I was far from home being in North Dakota. She made sure to enhance the feeling that when I am up there, I won’t feel far from home. It’s a home away from home with her. It felt amazing to have a coach invite me into a team like that.”
Minot State University competes in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Cordova-Jacobson will enter her fourth season in charge of the Beavers this year with a 21-67 overall record in her first three years. Previously, she coached at Tiffin University from 2010-16 after one year at Montana State-Billings. From 2000-07, she coached at Otero Junior College where she had a 165-155 record.
Ammerman is a 5-foot-10 setter who has been a proven leader for the Demons since she was a sophomore. As a freshman, she was a swing player on the varsity roster as an outside hitter.
By her sophomore season after a standout year of club volleyball, she was moved into the setter spot and found a home distributing the ball while still doing a bit of everything on the court.
She has averaged 4.4 assists per set in her career. She has also tallied 274 kills, 386 digs and 93 aces in 58 matches.
But her strong statistics haven’t told the entire story of what Ammerman has meant to the team.
“Before anything, she’s an incredible teammate,” said Colleen Vogt, who coached Ammerman during her first three years in high school. “From her sophomore year, she was a leader and one of the hardest workers who set such a great example. She is poised and even-keeled. She’s one of those kids that is there early, shags every ball, puts the nets away and leaves late. It’s awesome when the best players do those kinds of things. She always garnered respect by doing those kinds of things.”
Ammerman had to navigate a difficult recruiting path during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was eager to perform at the Colorado Crossroads tournament in March, where hundreds of college coaches gather to scout players. Ammerman counted on a strong performance there to lead to scholarship offers. When the tournament went away, so did the offers she had hoped to gain.
Ammerman’s position on the court also made it more difficult to find a team. Volleyball rosters feature several hitters but only a couple of setters.
“With all the battles facing 2021 athletes, Paige took this disappointment in stride and worked that much harder to find a good place for her to play volleyball. She wasn’t giving up,” Ammerman’s mother, Lauren, said. “
Then, the NCAA canceled the fall volleyball season and granted all athletes already on college rosters an extra year of eligibility. That meant fewer roster spots for incoming freshman.
“It was a lot more difficult than I expected,” Ammerman said. “Crossroads was supposed to be a big seller for me to meet a bunch of coaches. That didn’t happen, so I went to work this summer to find myself a spot. It was hard to decide because nowhere would have me out because of COVID-19, the recruiting dead period and no campuses being open. But Minot called me and wanted to fly me out to see the campus. It was a godsend for me to see the place before I went.”
New DHS head coach Kelley Rifilato first met Ammerman when she was an elementary school when Rifilato was coaching at Fort Lewis College and hosted camps in Durango. The two stayed connected when Rifilato left Durango and coached for a few years in St. George, Utah. Rifilato was named the head coach at DHS in the summer, and Ammerman was the first player Rifilato reached out to.
Not only did Ammerman and Rifilato talk about the future of DHS volleyball, which had its fall season moved to the spring because of the ongoing pandemic, but they also worked together to find college opportunities.
“Paige is such a good kid and a student of the game,” Rifilato said. “She is always accepting of any critique or criticism. She accepts all of it and does whatever you ask of her and makes a conscience effort to work on her game. She is a mature individual, and that has always shined through.
“One of the things we talked a lot about was finding the right fit for her. It might not be where she thought she would go a year or two ago. She followed all leads, no matter where it was in the country. I am glad she was able to find the perfect fit for her.”
Ammerman, who finished her junior year with a 4.27 grade-point average and was the co-president of the HOSA-Future Health Professionals student organization, plans to study nursing and was excited about the nursing program at Minot State.
The All-Southwestern League First Team selection from a year ago is now focused on a spring season as a senior in 2021 before she moves on to the next step.
“To have one more home game would mean the world to me,” she said. “It’s one of the greatest feelings ever.”