ST PAUL - A slow start for the rest of the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team Thursday was averted by freshman Abbey Thissen, whose seven kills in the first set spurred the Mustangs to a 25-20, 25-13, 25-20 sweep of Truman (Mo.) in the opening round of the NCAA Central Region tournament at Concordia-St. Paul University's Gangelhoff Center.
"We have a lot of young kids on our team and you never quite know how they're going to react to it," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "I thought we got out a little shaky in some spots, but I thought our kids really adjusted well and did a great job."
Back on the same floor where the Mustangs had won their first-ever Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament title 11 days earlier, the second-seeded Mustangs had some difficulties with serve-receive in the early going as the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (ranked 13th in the AVCA Coaches' Poll) repeatedly served at SMSU senior Brooke Burmeister en route to a 7-3 lead.
Photo by Travis Andries
Southwest Minnesota State senior outside hitter Brooke Burmeister, right, tips the ball past the block of Truman State’s Abby Heise, center, and Emily Briseno during a quarterfinal match of the NCAA?Division II?Central Region Volleyball Tournament held at the Gangelhoff Center on the campus of Concordia-St. Paul.
"I struggled with passing there a little bit early, but I just have to get back in my groove and do what I know how to do and control the ball," Burmeister said.
She found her groove, as did the rest of her team, after three consecutive kills by Thissen tied the first set at 13-13. Freshman McKell Anderson followed with her fourth kill of the set to give the Mustangs their first lead on the day.
The Mustangs would not relinquish the lead over the remainder of the set, while Thissen continued to add to her kill totals. With SMSU clinging to a 21-20 lead, a kill and ace block by Thissen surrounded an ace by Burmeister for set point. Thissen then knocked down another kill to give SMSU the early 1-0 lead.
"I thought our passing was really good and Emilee (Gutzmer) did a good job of moving the ball around," Thissen said. "And Devin (Diedrich) did a good job of occupying the block, so I just tried to take care of the block that they gave me."
SMSU controlled the second set, taking an early lead and cruising to a 25-13 win. With the passing issues that had caused them fits in Set 1 diminished, the Mustangs were able to focus on defense.
Whitney Burmeister, the younger sister of Brooke Burmeister, came up with several key digs for the Mustangs, who frustrated the Bulldogs into a -.069 hitting percentage. Whitney Burmeister also served strong for SMSU, keying a 6-0 run in the heart of Set 2 with her aggressiveness.
"Whitney really got off to a slow start," Culhane said. "We thought, 'Uh oh, here's one of our freshman moments. What adjustments do we want to make?' But she hung in there. I thought she made some great defensive plays, she passed well for us. Whitney's a very good ball control player and sometimes they just have to release themselves enough to feel comfortable to want to play that way. Something triggered her to get going and fortunately for us, she did."
Set 3 saw four Mustangs record multiple kills as setter Emilee Gutzmer, who finished the match with 41 set assists, distributed the ball to SMSU's stable of capable attackers.
Senior middle blocker Mary Groth had four of her team-high 11 kills in the third set, which SMSU won 25-20. Brooke Burmeister also had four kills in the final set and finished with 10 on the day to go with her 12 digs. SMSU's third senior, Devin Diedrich, led the Mustangs with five kills in the third set and had seven total for the day. Freshmen Anderson and Thissen each had nine kills for the Mustangs, who hit .273 percent for the match.
"I think that's been one of the strengths for us this year. We think we have five kids who can swing, and part of it takes some unselfishness," Culhane said. "I think after the first two sets, Devin had swung four times. But she had also worked hard to occupy some blockers and give Abbey on the outside some opportunities to get 1-on-1 situations with blockers. They zeroed in on Abbey in Game 3 and made an adjustment. Fortunately, that opened up some areas for other kids."
With the win, the Mustangs (30-2 overall) advance to play third-seeded Nebraska-Kearney, which swept Washburn (Mo.) in its quarterfinal match, at 5 p.m. today. The Lopers shared the second spot in the final regular season AVCA poll with the Mustangs.
"We talked about as a team that we start with eight today, and by the end of the day there will only be four," Culhane said. "We're excited to be one of those four. We knew coming in that we were going to have to come in and play well, and nothing's really changed. I thought our kids did a nice job today."
Truman20 13 20
SMSU25 25 25
Ace Serves: T-Megan Sharpe 2, Meghan Zimmerman 2, Abby Heise; SMSU-Brooke Burmeister 2, Devin Diedrich, Emilee Gutzmer, Rachel Westby, Whitney Burmeister.
Kills: T-Sharpe 9, Heise 7, Allie Brak 7; SMSU-Mary Groth 11, B. Burmeister 10, Abbey Thissen 9, McKell Anderson 9, Diedrich 7.
Digs: T-Abby Moser 8, Zimmerman 6, Brak 6; SMSU-Westby 12, B. Burmeister 12, W. Burmeister 9, Gutzmer 6.
Set Assists: T-Zimmerman 24; SMSU-Gutzmer 41.
Blocks (solo-assists): T-Emily Briseno 0-6, Brak 0-5, Sharpe 0-4, Heise 0-3, Ali Patterson 0-2; SMSU-Thissen 1-2, B. Burmeister 1-0, Anderson 1-0, Diedrich 0-2, Groth 0-1.