MARSHALL - Despite battling inconsistent play, the top-ranked Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team stormed past Minot State for a 3-0 victory in the teams' first-ever Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference meeting. The Mustangs hit .430 for the match, including .591 in the first set, to defeat the Beavers 25-11, 25-15, 25-14 at the PE Gym on Saturday.
"I thought we passed the ball decently and we hit .430 for the match, but we were also hitting almost .600 after Game 1 and then over .400 in Game 2, then it just keeps dropping down," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "That is one of my concerns is just having the consistency in execution and just having the quality swings. I didn't think we had that. I think it was kind of a lack of, I don't know if I'd call it focus, just a lack of intensity. And then it doesn't work out to the level that we want it to be."
The Mustangs pounded down 15 kills in the first set from six different players. Senior middle blocker Mary Groth led the way with six kills in the first set and finished the day with a match-high 12 kills and a .750 hitting percentage. Even libero Rachel Westby was credited with a kill after passing the ball into the open floor for the set's final point.
Southwest Minnesota State’s Devin Diedrich, second from right, and Ellen Degler (8) celebrate winning a point during the third set of Saturday’s sweep of Minot State in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference volleyball match played at the PE?Gym at SMSU.
During the second set, the Mustangs were only up by two at 12-10 when Westby came up with a couple athletic digs to refuel the Mustangs for a 13-5 run to close take a two-set to none lead.
Westby served as the catalyst all match, picking up 14 digs and supplying energy when the NSIC's top team looked sluggish. For Culhane, however, the Mustangs should not have to rely on any one player to get them going.
"I don't know that any one player needs to be the catalyst for it, I think that it's a responsibility of all of our players to come with that kind of intensity," Culhane said.
"We all depend on everybody. I think one of the things we battle with is being able to have that killer instinct; or when you have things really going well, that you're able to maintain that. I think sometimes we think that it's just supposed to happen instead of realize that we need to make that happen."
Inconsistency affected the Mustangs the most in the final set. Though SMSU led in its entirety, the team hit just .333 and prompted Culhane to take a timeout despite leading 13-9.
"We got sloppy with what we were doing and made a lot of errors," Culhane said of his decision to pause the game. "To me, that's lacking what it takes. It doesn't matter what the other team does, you still need to execute what you're doing. And I didn't think we did a very good job of that, as our hitting .333 against them showed."
The message was received, as SMSU beared down offensively with seven kills as part of a 12-5 run to end the match. The Mustangs (21-1 overall, 13-1 NSIC) were also the beneficiaries of two Emilee Gutzmer aces. The freshman setter had three total aces in the match to go along with her 35 set assists. Senior Devin Diedrich also had a pair of kills during the final run and finished with 10 for the match and two solo blocks against the Beavers (5-19, 1-13).
Consistency will be paramount if the Mustangs wish to continue their winning ways. SMSU is currently riding a 14-game winning streak, and kicks off a three-game road swing in its next match against Winona State (16-6, 10-4) on Friday. The final six games for the Mustangs all come against the top-half of the NSIC and include three ranked teams.
Minot State11 15 14
SMSU25 25 25
Serving (aces): M-Shari Hewson; SMSU-Emilee Gutzmer 3, Rachel Westby 3, Brooke Burmeister 2, Devin Diedrich, Whitney Burmeister, Ellen Degler.
Kills: M-Mallory Sall 10, Shari Hewson 7; SMSU-Mary Groth 12, Diedrich 10, Abbey Thissen 9.
Digs: M-Sall 5, Ashley Heavenor 5; SMSU-Westby 14, Degler 6.
Set Assists: M-Emily Byrne 24; SMSU-Gutzmer 35.
Blocks (solo-assists): M-Erin Davis 1-1, Sall 0-1; SMSU-Diedrich 2-1, Groth 1-3, McKell Anderson 0-2, B. Burmeister 0-1, Gutzmer 0-1.