MARSHALL - It may not have been the start the No. 4-ranked Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team was looking for in its home opener, but it was definitely the finish it wanted.
The Mustangs overcame a rough start in the first game to sweep the University of Sioux Falls 25-21, 25-16, 25-9 in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play on Tuesday in Marshall.
"I think we were just really excited to be able to play at home instead of being on the road," said SMSU head coach Terry Culhane. "That always helps with the energy level."
Photo by Alex Oey
Southwest Minnesota State freshman Abbey Thissen (20)?hits past the block of Sioux Falls’ Sarah Kohler (11) and Natalie Minchow during the Mustangs’ home opener at the PE?Gym on the campus of SMSU.
Despite the energy level for the Mustangs, the Cougars were able to break away first, using small runs to build a 16-10 lead in the first game.
"One of the things we talked to them about was how USF was going to swing at us, and they did," Culhane said. "We weren't ready defensively to handle them. I thought they served tough, they really took good swings at us. We just didn't respond very well to that."
With her team down, Ellen Degler stepped back to serve and turned things around quickly.
Taking advantage of four USF errors, a pair of kills and a block from Brooke Burmeister, Degler put the Mustangs up 18-17.
"It all started with Degler," Burmeister said. "Degler went back and served a bunch of aggressive balls that kept them out of system and came back and gave us free balls, giving us an opportunity to get blocks."
The Mustangs increased the lead to 22-19 with a pair of ace serves from Burmeister and a kill from McKell Anderson, and finished it 25-21 with another of Anderson's 12 kills.
"We got more comfortable as we kept playing," Anderson said. "We just made sure we were stopped on defense so we were ready to move."
In the second game, USF took the early lead once again, but after a five-point run with Rachel Westby serving that included two ace serves, the Mustangs led 14-10 and never looked back.
"I think we started to get in a better rhythm, more of a flow," Culhane said. "Volleyball is just not a game where you get to jump out to 10-point leads very often. It's one of those things that you need to be patient."
After moving up 17-12, SMSU went on a three-point run to make it 20-13.
With game point on the line, Burmeister put down one of her match-leading 14 kills for the win.
"I saw that they gave me lines, so I took advantage of that. Emilee (Gutzmer) and Jenna (Duddleston) were giving me great balls so I had opportunities to swing hard," Burmeister said. "We just started clicking more, started getting on the normal swings we've been on and played as a team."
In Game 3, the Mustangs had their best defensive performance, holding the Courgars to a negative hitting percentage. They also jumped out to a 9-2 lead with Devin Diedrich serving and continued to build on that lead, keeping USF well off their game.
"You see that happen where you get up 2-0 on someone and you jump out to an early lead and it expands," Culhane said. "What we talked about was trying to maintain it and make them earn points. I thought we did a better job of that as the night went on."
SMSU continued making small runs to extend the lead, going up 14-5 and 20-8 before another solid Diedrich serving streak gave the Mustangs match point 24-9. An unforced USF error ended the game and the match, giving SMSU it's third straight home-opener win.
"I think our setters did a nice job of spreading the ball pin-to-pin," Anderson said. "We were doing better on defense and got swings on the ball. Everything kind of came together."
The Mustangs (9-1 overall, 2-1 NSIC) will be in action again on Friday night when they play host to St. Cloud State University.
"One of our goals has been be more efficient offensively and improve defensively," Culhane said. "I think we are still letting too many balls hit the floor that we're not making plays on that we need to make.
"We'll go to work in the next few days of practice and get better than that for a tough weekend. It looks like all of them are going to be that way."
USF21 16 9
SMSU25 25 25
Ace Serves: USF-Chand Goedken, Alexa Reed, Natalie Minchow, Andrea Odbert; SMSU-McKell Anderson 2, Brooke Burmeister 2, Rachel Westby 2, Ellen Degler.
Kills: USF-Goedken 6, Emily Johnson 5, Sarah Kohler 5; SMSU-Burmeister 14, Anderson 12, Mary Groth 6, Devin Diedrich 4, Abbey Thissen 4.
Digs: USF-Goedken 7, Johnson 4, Minchow 4; SMSU-Westby 6, Anderson 5, Burmeister 5.
Set Assists: USF-Reed 19; SMSU-Emilee Gutzmer 32.
Blocks (solo-assists): USF-Kohler 0-1, Minchow 0-1; SMSU-Groth 0-2, Burmeister 0-1, Thissen 0-1.