MARSHALL - With a 12-match winning streak entering Friday night, the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team defied convention by altering its routine. Rather than their traditional brown and gold, the Mustangs were clad in scarlet as part of their second annual "Red Out" to support heart disease awareness.
The uniform change did little to slow down the Mustangs, however, as the nation's top-ranked team in Division II rolled over the University of Mary in straight sets, 25-16, 25-9, 25-17, in the PE Gym.
The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference win extended the Mustangs winning streak to 13 matches and improved their record to 20-1 overall (12-1 NSIC).
Photo by Travis Andries
Southwest Minnesota State University’s Abby Thissen goes up for a kill during the Mustangs’ match against the University of Mary on Friday night. The No. 1-ranked Mustangs, who play at home again today, swept the Marauders. SMSU hit a season-high .436.
SMSU trailed just once in the first set at 5-4, but was unable to pull away from the Marauders until a 4-1 run made the score 13-9. The Mustangs would maintain their four-point cushion until a 3-0 run stretched the SMSU lead to 20-13.
Following a pair of U-Mary points the Mustangs scored four of their own, keyed by a pair of Devin Diedrich kills. The senior finished with a match-high 12 kills and committed zero errors on the night.
The Marauders (3-17, 3-10) would add one last point before a serving error gave the Mustangs the first set 25-16. U-Mary committed eight service errors over the three sets, in sharp contrast to the Mustangs who made just one. The errors by the Marauders also let the Mustangs, who struggled to block all night, off the hook.
U-Mary16 9 25
SMSU25 25 25
Ace Serves: M-Claire Lulich, Valerie Lesu; SMSU-Emilee Gutzmer 3, Kelsey Hennen 2, Jenna Duddleston 2, Brooke Burmeister, Ellen Degler.
Kills: M-Allison Opp 10, Lauren Boldt 5, Paige Smith 5; SMSU-Devin Diedrich 12, Abbey Thissen 11, Burmeister 7, Mary Groth 7, McKell Anderson 5.
Digs: M-Lesu 8; SMSU-Rachel Westby 11, Emilee Gutzmer 8, Degler 6.
Set Assists: M-Emily Turkowski 22; SMSU-Gutzmer 31.
Blocks (solo-assists): M-Morgan Dake 0-3, Morgan Zabel 0-2; SMSU-Diedrich 0-3, Burmeister 0-3, Gutzmer 0-2, Groth 0-2.
"I thought we struggled more when they were swinging or tipping well," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "That's the area where I thought we struggled the most. Sometimes if teams are in system a lot, everybody in this league can swing at you. We defended better when we served better and that's something we preach all the time."
Set 2 was all SMSU as the Mustangs galloped out to a 13-5 lead before closing on a 12-4 run. Diedrich closed out the set with a scorching hit on a night when the Mustangs recorded a season-high hitting percentage of .436.
Rachel Westby, who had a match-high 11 digs, stood out in particular doing everything in her power to keep the ball off the floor. In combination with Emilee Gutzmer (8 digs) and Kelsey Hennen (4), the back row ensured the Mustangs had a good first touch on the ball.
"I thought our serve receive kids were pretty good," Culhane said. "I thought Rachel passed well, actually all of them. Kelsey Hennen did, Whitney Burmeister did when she came in."
During the final set, the Mustangs and Marauders went back and forth until a pair of aces from Gutzmer broke open the score at 10-6. The Marauders attempted a comeback by scattering six kills between three SMSU points, but were unable to get any closer than 13-12. SMSU outscored U-Mary 12-5 down the stretch which included a 5-0 run during Gutzmer's second trip to the service line in the set. The freshman setter had three aces on the night.
Gutzmer also had 31 set assists to lead the Mustangs, who knocked down 44 total kills in the match. Abby Thissen was second to Diedrich with 11 kills, while seniors Mary Groth and Brooke Burmeister each had seven.
The Mustangs have another match in Marshall at 3 p.m. today, as they host the Minot State Beavers. With just seven matches left in the regular season, Culhane is looking at the game against Minot State as an opportunity to keep on improving before the season's final stretch.
"We have one more tomorrow and then we go on a tough road trip. Three matches on the road then three matches at home and the regular season is over. Hopefully our kids are understanding there is more urgency to it and hopefully tomorrow we'll bring the same energy."