The sixth-ranked Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team lived up to its lofty ranking on Friday with a pair of sweeps to start the season during Day 1 action of the Wildwood Lodge Volleyball Classic hosted by Concordia-St. Paul.
The Mustangs opened the day with 25-23, 25-18, 25-21 win over 10th-ranked Hillsdale College (Mich.), then capped things off with a dominant 25-12, 25-19, 25-14 victory over unranked Regis (Colo.).
In the opener, SMSU senior outside hitter Brooke Burmeister had an impressive performance with 17 kills and 10 digs. Senior middle blocker Mary Groth added nine kills, and playing in her first match since the 2010 season after missing 2011 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, senior Devin Diedrich added six kills and five ace blocks.
The Mustangs also had some nice contributions from a trio of freshmen. McKell Anderson had nine kill, nine digs and two ace serves, and Abbey Thissen added seven kills, and Emilee Gutzmer orchestrated the offense with 40 set assists.
"I thought our freshmen did do a nice job," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "McKell had nine kills and Abbey had seven, and Abbey actually led us in hitting efficiency. I think that's a real positive.
"I thought the freshmen were solid in that regard and I think we just needed to get more people to clean it up as a group."
Entering the season, there was a question mark as to who would replace longtime setter Cara Carson. Gutzmer and transfer Jenna Duddleston were both playing the position in camp, and Culhane said he thought Gutzmer performed well in her first collegiate match.
"It's hard enough playing as freshman and harder yet playing as a freshman setter," Culhane said. "I think she did about as well as we could have expected in that first match and responded well."
Defensively, the Mustangs got 17 digs from libero Rachel Westby, and 11 digs from defensive specialist Christa Wolf.
SMSU kept its momentum rolling against Regis in a lopsided match.
Groth led the SMSU attack with a match-high 15 kills. Anderson showed her consistency with nine kills and 10 digs.
Other top contributors for the Mustangs were Westby, who had 18 digs, and Gutzmer, who tallied 33 set assists.
"Regis was a young team with a lot of freshmen playing," Culhane said. "I thought we really showed signs where we did some positive things offensive and defensively, but we also battled some consistency issues. That's just something we'll have to get better at as the season goes on.
"To be a real good team you have to have your hitting efficiency up there, and we struggled with our timing with our middles at times. We're still trying to figure things out and learn to trust each other and what we're running."
The Mustangs wrap up competition at the two-day event today when they face No. 20 BYU-Hawaii at 1:30 p.m. in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
SMSU25 25 25
Hillsdale23 18 21
Ace Serves: SMSU-McKell Anderson 2, Rachel Westby 1, Emilee Gutzmer 1; HC-Caitlin Kopmeyer 1.
Kills: SMSU-Brooke Burmeister 17, Mary Groth 9, Anderson 9, Abbey Thissen 7, Devin Diedrich 6; HC-Kopmeyer 9, Bekah Draves 9, Lauren K. Grover 6.
Digs: SMSU-Westby 17, Christa Wolf 11, Burmeister 10, Anderson 9; HC-Marissa Owen 15, Kopmeyer 10.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 40, Westby 2; HC-Sydney Lenhart 15.
Blocks (solo-assist): SMSU-Diedrich 5-1, Burmeister 0-2, Groth 1-1; Grover 1-6, Emily Wolfert 2-2, Kat Carpenter 0-4.
SMSU25 25 25
Regis12 19 14
Ace Serves: SMSU-McKell Anderson 2, Brooke Burmeister 2, Devin Diedrich 1, Emilee Gutzmer 1, Rachel Westby 1, Christa Wolf 1; R-Katie Klein 1, Makayla Higgins 1, Sage Martinson 1.
Kills: SMSU-Mary Groth 15, Anderson 9, Diedrich 6, Burmeister 6, Abbey Thissen 5, Gutzmer 2; R-Klein 8, Caitlin McDonnel 8, Caitie Breaux 6.
Digs: SMSU-Westby 18, Wolf 12, Anderson 10; R-Klein 14, Maya Kirkeby 11.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 33, Westby 4; R-Jaclyn Williamson 18.
Blocks (solo-assist): SMSU-Diedrich 1-2, Anderson 0-2, Groth 0-2.