The second-ranked Southwest Minnesota State swept Augustana College Tuesday night in Sioux Falls, S.D., but the win was far from easy. Locked into tight battles in the first and third sets, the Mustangs found a way to win both as they took the match 27-25, 25-16, 31-29 for the program's 800th all-time victory.
Senior middle blocker Mary Groth led the Mustangs (12-1 overall) with 13 kills in what was considered a non-conference match between two familiar Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foes.
The Vikings (9-5) were held to a .098 hitting percentage for the match.
Augustana took the initiative in the first set and jumped out to a 15-10 lead before the Mustangs started to reel in the Vikings. SMSU had to fight off a pair of set points and eventually won the set on back-to-back kills by Groth.
SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said his team had been in that position several times this season.
"You don't want to get behind, but our kids have done a nice job of not giving up," he said. "They battle through to the end, and fortunately to this point, they've won those types of games."
SMSU cruised in the second set, during which the Mustangs held Augustana to a -.022 attack percentage. But coming out of the break between the second and third sets, the Vikings found renewed energy and the Mustangs found themselves in a battle yet again.
SMSU jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead before Augustana rallied to eventually tie the set at 15. The two teams traded blows from there, and Augustana grabbed a 29-28 lead after an attack error by Groth. But SMSU didn't give in and won the next three points, the first one a kill by Brooke Burmeister, the second on an attack error by the Vikings and the third on Groth's 13th kill of the match.
"We got out to our early lead in Game 3 and then I thought (Augustana) started to play much better," Culhane said. "We made some errors to add to the problem, and the next thing you know we were battling like crazy to try to win.
"With a score like that, obviously there were a lot of big points. Both teams made key plays with the pressure on and we were able to get that two-point difference yet again."
SMSU freshman Abbey Thissen had 11 kills for the Mustangs, and Burmeister finished with nine kills and a team-high 14 digs. Freshman Emilee Gutzmer finished the night with 40 set assists.
Former Marshall High School teammates Rachel Westby and Kayla Wallerich played on opposite sides of the net Tuesday and each of them had strong defensive efforts. Westby finished with 13 digs for the Mustangs, while Wallerich had 11 digs for the Vikings.
SMSU resumes action later in the week when the Mustangs travel to Northern State (S.D.) Friday and head to Minnesota State-Moorhead on Saturday.
SMSU27 25 31
AC25 16 29
Ace Serves: SMSU-McKell Anderson, Devin Diedrich, Brooke Burmeister, Emilee Gutzmer, Rachel Westby; AC-Julia Witt.
Kills: SMSU-Mary Groth 13, Abbey Thissen 11, Burmeister 9, Anderson 7, Diedrich 5; AC-Holly Hafemeyer 18, Taylor Hrdlichka 8, Jordan Spatenka 6, Courtney Ysker 5.
Digs: SMSU-Bermeister 14, Westby 13, Ellen Degler 12, Gutzmer 9, Anderson 8; AC-Witt 13, Kayla Wallerich 11, Ysker 9.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 40; AC-Marissa Johnson 20, Katie Niesen 14.
Blocks (solo-assists): Groth 1-5, Diedrich 0-4; AC-Hafemeyer 1-4, Brooke Lewko 0-4.