SMSU VOLLEYBALL: Mustangs power past Arkansas Tech

Photo by Brennen Rupp SMSU’s Taylor Reiss connects on a kill during their quarterfinal match against Arkansas Tech on Thursday in the NCAA Central Region Tournament. The Mustangs won 3-0 to advance to the semifinal round today.

MARSHALL – The Arkansas Tech Golden Suns entered the opening round of the NCAA Central Region Tournament with a perfect 35-0 record. The undefeated Golden Suns had no answers for the Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball team, as the top seeded Mustangs defeated the Golden Suns in straight sets to advance to the semifinals.

“It was a wonderful atmosphere,” SMSU coach Terry Culhane said. “It was a hard fought match. I think we came out ready to play. We set the tone early in Set 1. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes. We handled the emotion and excitement of it pretty well. We are excited about the win and the opportunity to play tomorrow.”

The Mustangs set the tone for the match in the opening set. SMSU, the host of the Central Region Tournament, jumped out to a 9-1 lead and never looked back. That fast start was fueled by a three kills from Taylor Reiss and two aces from Dani Potter. SMSU never took their foot off the gas en route to a 25-9 opening set victory.

“In game one we served tough and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Culhane said. “They had some errors that helped. Anytime you get a string like that at this level you are getting help from your opponent.”

Reiss finished the first set with six kills and three blocks.

“I think just being aggressive,” Reiss said. “I knew going in that they were a good defensive team. I just tried to be aggressive. It helps having Megan set the ball.”

The second set started off much like the first one, with the Mustangs racing out to a 7-1 lead. The Golden Suns found their footing midway through the second set and at one point trailed 22-18. Unfortunately for Arkansas Tech it was too late, as the Mustangs defeated the Golden Suns 25-20 to take a 2-0 lead match.

Kaylee Burmeister and Sarina Smith both recorded three kills in the second set for the Mustangs. Caedyn Reinhardt, Brooke Borchardt and Reiss all recorded two kills.

The Golden Suns got their first lead of the match to start the third set of an SMSU serving error. Arkansas Tech never relinquished that lead and held a 13-7 lead, which forced coach Culhane to take a timeout. Following that timeout the Mustangs went on a 9-2 run to take a 16-15 lead.

“I’d like to tell you it was good coaching, but it had nothing to do with that,” Culhane said. “You have to use the timeouts when you have them and see what we can do. We scored a couple points and picked away at that lead. We have a lot of good experienced players. I thought they handled themselves well. They didn’t panic.”

Once the Mustangs recaptured the lead they never looked back. SMSU went on to win the third set 25-21 to complete the sweep of Arkansas Tech.

Reiss finished the third set with eight kills. Burmeister recorded three kills.

Megan Larson finished the match with 31 assists, three aces and 10 digs. Potter finished with three aces.

The Mustangs will face the University of Minnesota Duluth tonight at 7:30 p.m. The Mustangs swept UMD at home earlier this season and lost the Bulldogs in Duluth, 3-1. Culhane said his team is preparing for a battle.

“We are just excited about playing tomorrow,” Culhane said. “We know UMD is a good team. We are excited about being one of four teams left. That was our goal coming in to today. Tomorrow is a new day. We will enjoy this. We know UMD well, and they know us well. We need to execute and play hard. We are expecting a battle.”

SMSU 25 25 25

Arkansas Tech 9 20 21

Individual Statistics

Serving (Ace): SMSU (Larson, Potter 3).

Kills: SMSU (Reiss 17; Smith 7; Burmeister 6; Borchardt 5).

Digs: SMSU (Larson 10).

Set Assists: SMSU (Larson 31).