MARSHALL - Four players recorded double-digit kills off of 54 Emilee Gutzmer set assists to spur the Southwest Minnesota State University Mustangs to a four-set victory over the Winona State Warriors Saturday at the PE Gym on the campus of SMSU.
Mary Groth led the Mustangs with 17 kills, and freshman Abbey Thissen had 16 kills in SMSU's 25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 25-12 win over the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe. Seniors Devin Diedrich and Brooke Burmeister had 10 and 11 kills, respectively.
The win extended the Mustangs' current winning streak to nine match and snapped a 15-match win streak for the Warriors. SMSU (16-1 overall, 8-1 NSIC) now finds itself in a three-way tie for first place in the conference, sharing the top spot with Winona State and Minnesota-Duluth.
Southwest Minnesota State senior middle blocker Mary Groth, right, tries to hit past the block of Winona State’s Bekah Saugen, left, and Laura Zeamer during Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match at the PE Gym on the campus of SMSU.
According to SMSU head coach Terry Culhane, the second-ranked Mustangs were prepared for a battle against the unranked Warriors heading into homecoming Saturday.
"We knew that clearly we're playing someone who's above us in the conference," Culhane said. "It was an important match for us in that regard. They are a good team and were going to give us everything we needed. We knew we would have to serve and pass and take care of the ball, hitting-wise. I thought it was just a battle all the way through."
SMSU got off to slow start in the first set, falling behind 8-4. But Groth picked up five of her team-high 17 kills on the day to help the Mustangs outscore the Warriors 21-9 to close out the set.
"I think we didn't pass very well to start the match," Culhane said. "It's tough to run offense from that point, and blockers get lined up on you. It usually works hand in hand. I thought we got better as it went and I thought we got better defensively later in the match."
The improvement as delayed, however, as the Mustangs committed 11 attack errors in the second set. Winona State also took advantage of open floor down the lines to steal Set 2 25-23 and even the match at one set each.
In the third set, the Mustangs and Warriors traded points and small runs until a 4-0 run put SMSU ahead 16-14. The Mustangs outscored Winona State 9-5 to take the set. Groth had five of SMSU's 16 kills in the set and Thissen had four of her own. As a team, the third set was the best attacking set of the match for the Mustangs, who had a .408 hitting percentage.
"I think any time we hit a higher percentage, one of the things that happens is you typically control the ball better," Culhane said. "That goes back to passing. We were able to get more one on one situations at the net because of that. Then it's easier to score than if you're hitting against a double block. When you're in control, it's hard to get two blocks up. That was typically the biggest issue."
The Mustangs dominated the fourth set, forcing eight attacking errors for the Warriors and holding them to a -.051 attack percentage. Thissen, a freshman, led the Mustang offense with seven kills in the final set, including the final two points of the game.
"I think that we were all fluid and worked together and everything just fell into place," Thissen said. "Everybody did their job and that made it easy. They were moving their block around so we were just trying to hit around them and do our job."
Winona State was stifled throughout the match, as the Mustangs had 12 total team blocks. Groth and Diedrich combined for nine blocks, with Groth accounting for five solo blocks. Rachel Westby had 22 digs to lead the Mustangs, while McKell Anderson had 14 digs and seven kills.
Next up for the Mustangs is a pair of road matches against two teams from the bottom half of the NSIC standings. The Mustangs travel to Bemidji on Friday for a match with the Bemidji State Beavers (3-13 overall, 1-8 NSIC) before concluding the weekend against Minnesota-Crookston (7-9, 3-6) on Saturday.
Winona17 25 19 12
SMSU25 23 25 25
Ace Serves:?WSU-Leah Perri 2, Maggie Finkel, Kayla Uhlenhake, Katie Froehle; SMSU-McKell Anderson, Devin Diedrich, Brooke Burmeister, Whitney Burmeister.
Kills: WSU-Bekah Saugen 12, Kate Horihan 11; SMSU-Mary Groth 17, Abby Thissen 16, B. Burmeister 11, Diedrich 10.
Digs: WSU-Finkel 16, Saugen 12; SMSU-Rachel Westby 22, Anderson 14.
Set Assists: WSU-Elena Kruesel 16, Uhlenhake 11; SMSU-Emilee Gutzmer 54.
Blocks (solo-assist): WSU-Rachel Polland 2-4, Laura Zeamer 0-6; SMSU-Groth 5-1, Diedrich 1-5, Thissen 0-4.