The third-ranked Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team faced two teams with different styles of play during the Missouri S&T tournament on Saturday, but the end result was the same in each match - a Mustangs sweep.
The Mustangs defeated an offensive-minded Emporia State team 25-19, 27-25, 25-19 to start the day, then defeated a tough defensive team in Northwest Missouri State 25-17, 25-19, 25-9 in their second match to go 4-0 during the two-day tournament in Rolla, Mo.
SMSU middle blocker Devin Diedrich had 16 kills in the opening match, while Mary Groth added 12 and Brooke Burmeister added eight. The three seniors were joined by a pair of freshmen in the attack, as McKell Anderson and Abbey Thissen each added seven kills.
Mustangs head coach Terry Culhane said he's been very happy with how the freshmen have adjusted to the collegiate game through the team's first seven matches (all wins).
"McKell struggled a bit in the second match, but that was the first time all year she's struggled," Culhane said. "She's been very steady, very consistent and even-keeled. And Abbey is taking some really good swings and gaining more and more confidence.
"The experienced kids - Mary, Devin and Brooke - they make life easier for Abbey and McKell and all of them together gives us a more balanced attack, more swings from various locations on the floor."
Freshman Emilee Gutzmer also had a big match against Emporia State, finishing with 48 set assists. She added 32 set assists in the team's sweep of Northwest Missouri State.
"It's not easy to play in our league as a freshman and not easy to be a setter in our league," Culhane said. "Emily's done a great job.
"It's a combination of a lot of things. She's gotten the ball-handling kids passing the ball well to her and Emilee has been making good decisions and learning all the time."
The Mustangs' second match was a defensive battle against the Bearcats.
SMSU's defense was stellar, holding the Bearcats to a -040 attack percentage. The Mustangs' front line had a big part in that. Diedrich had seven block assists in the match, and Thissen had five.
"I thought Devin played really hard through the whole tournament," Culhane said. "She worked so hard as a blocker, and even when she wasn't blocking her presence on the net was certainly evident. She played hard and made a lot of athletic plays."
Culhane said the Bearcats were very scrappy and got to a lot of balls, but SMSU's offense found its way to score. Thissen led the team with 12 kills, Groth had eight and Burmeister added seven.
Rachel Westby led the Mustangs with 14 digs in the match, and freshman Kelsey Hennen added eight.
The Mustangs now enter Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play, starting with a tough road trip. SMSU resumes action Friday against top-ranked Concordia-St. Paul, then faces No. 13 Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday.
SMSU25 27 25
ESU19 25 19
Ace Serves: SMSU-Brooke Burmeister 1, McKell Anderson 1, Devin Diedrich 1. ESU-none.
Kills: SMSU-Diedrich 16, Mary Groth 12, Brooke Burmeister 8, Anderson 7, Abbey Thissen 7. ESU-Brianna Kaiser 10, Katie Deutschmann 6.
Digs: SMSU-Rachel Westby 11, Burmeister 10. ESU-Meg Schwartz 15.
Set Assists: SMSU-Emilee Gutzmer 48. ESU-Deutschmann 19, Sydney Hartman 15.
Blocks (solo-assists): SMSU-Groth 0-5, Anderson 0-3, Gutzmer 0-3. ESU-Courtney Haring 0-4.
SMSU25 25 25
NWMS17 19 9
Ace Serves: SMSU-Burmeister 2, Gutzmer 2, Anderson 1. NWMS-Alicia Watson 1.
Kills: SMSU-Thissen 12, Groth 8, Burmeister 7, Diedrich 6, Anderson 5. NWMS-Brooke Bartosh 6, Abby Graves 6.
Digs: SMSU-Westby 14, Kelsey Hennen 8. NWMS-Tori Beckman 13, Kelsey Lacy 9.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 32. NWMS-Dallas Gardner 17.
Blocks (solo-assists): SMSU-Diedrich 0-7, Thissen 0-5, Groth 1-1, Burmeister 0-2. NWMS-Bartosh 0-3.