MARSHALL - After a solid start to a three-game homestand on Tuesday, Southwest Minnesota State University was looking to continue and improve.
The Mustangs did just that, hitting a season-high .406 en route to a sweep of St. Cloud State University - 25-10, 25-18, 25-15 - on Friday night in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match.
The three senior hitters combined for 34 kills and averaged a .525 hitting percentage across the board.
Photo by Alex Oey
Southwest Minnesota State senior Devin Diedrich, right, tips the ball past St. Cloud State’s Kellan Flynn during Friday’s night’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match at the PE?Gym on the campus of SMSU. Diedrich finished with nine kills.
"It was good to see us get efficient offensively like we were," said SMSU head coach Terry Culhane. "I felt we were pretty balanced as far as how we moved the ball around."
In the first game the, Mustangs (10-1 overall, 3-1 NSIC) jumped out to a 9-3 lead with Devin Diedrich serving after being down 3-2. Additional runs by Ellen Degler and Rachel Westby, as well as a match-high .448 hitting allowed SMSU to roll to a 25-10 win over the Huskies (5-7, 1-3).
"We just had to be better at focusing right away and getting after it," said SMSU's Mary Groth, who led the team with 14 kills. "So much of it is a mental game, that we just have to get our heads right and get after it right away."
SMSU took advantage of several hustle plays in the first game that allowed the Mustangs to keep balls alive and keep the Huskies from building momentum.
"To survive in this league and play at a high level, you need to make it hard for opponents to put the ball on the floor," Culhane said. "I thought our kids did work hard in that regard. We spend a lot of time at it and will continue to because I still think we can get a lot better at it."
In Game 2, SCSU started out strong and held the early lead, but as setter Emilee Gutzmer, who had 38 set assists on the night, started distributing again, the Mustangs quickly took the lead and stretched it out, tying the game at 9-all with Brooke Burmeister serving, and taking the lead for good with Degler serving to put SMSU up 19-16.
The Mustangs' attack proved to be too much for the Huskies again.
"We decided we wanted to establish the outsides right away, get our middles involved and distribute," Gutzmer said. "Once they commit to the outside and we come back to the middle, they don't know who to block."
SMSU finished out Game 2 with a 25-18 win, setting up the third game for a potential sweep.
Even with solid play in the first two games, the Mustangs were not going to let up.
In the third game, SMSU jumped out to an early lead and never looked back.
The Mustangs put together small runs of two, three and four points to build leads of 3-1, 11-5, 19-12 and 24-15 before a Groth kill gave SMSU the sweep and its second straight win.
"I think we competed hard and we were consistent," Groth said. "We were efficient with what we did. You could see that through all aspects of the game."
Today, the Mustangs face off against the third-ranked University of Minnesota-Duluth in a battle of two of the top teams in the conference.
"We know going in it's just one of many really good teams we're playing in this conference," Culhane said. "Right now they are at the top of the conference and it's an important game in that regard.
"It's a long season and there's lots of good teams that will play each other."
SCSU10 18 15
SMSU25 25 25
Ace Serves: SCSU-Ellile Dietzen; SMSU-Devin Diedrich, Rachel Westby, Christa Wolf.
Kills: SCSU-Kellan Flynn 10, Dietzen 6, Jordan Hansen 5; SMSU-Mary Groth 14, Brooke Burmeister 11, Diedrich 9, Abbey Thissen 8, McKell Anderson 6, Emilee Gutzmer 1.
Digs: SCSU-Brianne Stamer 11, Rachel Burke 6; SMSU-Westby 7, Ellen Degler 7, Kelsey Hennen 5, Diedrich 5.
Set Assists: SCSU-Erin Ohlemann 20; SMSU-Gutzmer 38.
Blocks (solo-assists): SCSU-Dietzen 1-3, Ohlemann 0-3, Flynn 0-2, Hansen 0-2; SMSU-Diedrich 2-3, Anderson 0-3, Groth 0-2, Burmeister 0-1, Thissen 0-1.