MARSHALL - For one set, Saturday's volleyball match between third-ranked Minnesota-Duluth and No. 4 Southwest Minnesota State played out as one would expect for a contest between two national powers.
The Bulldogs and Mustangs traded blows and felt each other out in a tightly-contested game that went down to the wire, with SMSU pulling out a 28-26 win after a kill by senior middle blocker Mary Groth and an attack error by the Bulldogs.
The second two sets, however, resembled a match between a top-ranked team clicking on all cylinders and an opponent that was overmatched. The Mustangs finished Set 2 with a flourish and led start to finish in the third set for a 28-26, 25-18, 25-13 sweep of the Bulldogs.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota State’s Brooke Burmeister (13) points to a teammate while celebrating a kill during the second set of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match against third-ranked Minnesota-Duluth Saturday at the PE Gym in Marshall.
Picking up steam as the match progressed, the Mustangs finished with a .301 hitting percentage and held the Bulldogs to a .121 percentage, including a -.071 attack percentage in the final set.
"Duluth has always had a great team and we just knew going in that we'd have to compete hard," said SMSU senior outside hitter Brooke Burmeister, who led the Mustangs in kills (12) and digs (11). "We started off kind of slow and then we started to pick it up and just used that momentum through the rest of the match."
Finishing their first homestand of the season with three wins in three matches, the Mustangs move to 11-1 overall and 4-1 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. After their first loss of the year, UMD is now 13-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play.
The Bulldogs had the Mustangs on their heels in the opening set, forcing SMSU head coach Terry Culhane to call a timeout after a 5-0 run that put UMD up 11-8. Out of the timeout, the Bulldogs got back-to-back kills by Kalli Lochner and Mariah Scharf and Culhane quickly called his second timeout.
Duluth scored again out of the timeout on a kill by outside hitter Kate Lange to go up 14-8, but from there the Mustangs picked up their defense and energy to start closing the gap. They tied the match at 18-all after a UMD hitting error and the two teams played neck and neck until the Mustangs got consecutive points on Groth's kill and a UMD attack error to win 28-26.
"They can be slow starts, but a lot of the times that's because of what they do, or what they make you do," Culhane said. "I thought they served aggressively and carried play more at us than we did.
"We struggled with some, not routine plays, but plays we need to make against quality teams like Duluth. That got us into trouble, and fortunately our kids held together and found a way to win Game 1. I think some of our younger kids started to relax more later in Game 1, but I really thought the experience of our older kids really surfaced today and set the example for what we were doing."
Lange had a tremendous first set for the Bulldogs, putting down eight kills to go along with eight digs. Part of the key in the Mustangs' dominance in the second two sets was slowing Lange down. She finished the match with just five more kills and four more digs.
The two teams were tied at 11 in the second set before SMSU took over and finished on a 14-7 run. A tenacious defensive effort, both from the front and back rows, helped the Mustangs extend rallies and win more points to run away with the match. SMSU had 10 total team blocks compared to four for UMD. Groth led the way with three block assists and two solo blocks, and Devin Diedrich added four block assists and one solo block.
A night after achieving a season-high hitting percentage against SCSU, the Mustangs were able to maintain an efficient attack against the Bulldogs, especially in the second two sets in which they hit .364 and .409, respectively. While UMD had two players with seven or more kills, the Mustangs had five. Along with Burmeister's team-high 12 kills, Abbey Thissen had 10, McKell Anderson tallied eight, and Groth and Diedrich each had seven. Emilee Gutzmer, a freshman along with Thissen and Anderson, piled up 39 set assists in the match.
Culhane said that achieving an efficient attack is something that takes a total team effort.
"People take for granted our kids who pass the ball, but for us to hit efficiently we have to pass the ball well and our ball-handling has been good," Culhane said. "And then I thought Emilee did a nice job setting the ball for us as a freshman in her position. I thought she ran our offense well and gave us a decent rhythm, and then our hitters are taking more quality swings.
"All that combines for a better hitting efficiency, which is what we need because that's just such a critical ingredient for teams to win. That's been encouraging, especially when you have a good hitting efficiency against a team as good at Duluth."
The Mustangs begin a three-match road trip Tuesday when they take on Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D.
UMD26 18 13
SMSU28 25 18
Ace Serves: UMD-Samantha Hertaus 2, Kate Lange, Julie Rainey; SMSU-Devin Diedrich, Emilee Gutzmer.
Kills: UMD-Lange 13, Monica Turner 6, Kalli Lochner 6; SMSU-Brooke Burmeister 12, Abbey Thissen 10, McKell Anderson 8, Mary Groth 7, Diedrich 7.
Digs: UMD-Lange 12, Rainey 11, Hertaus 9; SMSU-Burmeister 11, Rachel Westby 10, Anderson 8, Ellen Degler 6.
Set Assists: UMD-Ashley Hinsch 33; SMSU-Gutzmer 39.
Blocks (solo-assists): UMD-Turner 0-3, Maddy Siroin 0-3; SMSU-Groth 2-3, Diedrich 1-4, Burmeister 0-4, Thissen 0-3.