Saturday's rematch between the Southwest Minnesota State volleyball team and Upper Iowa didn't play out much like the first meeting of the season, but the result was still the same. The Mustangs overcame 35 attack errors and a feisty effort by the Peacocks to escape Fayette, Iowa with a 29-27, 21-25, 25-17, 25-21 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference victory for the squad's 16th win in a row.
SMSU (21-1 overall, 15-1 NSIC) cruised past Upper Iowa (15-10, 9-7) in straight sets when the teams met on Oct. 5 in Marshall. That wasn't the case Saturday, as the Peacocks put forth a tough defensive effort to hang with the nation's top-ranked team.
"They really gave us a good fight," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "Last time we played them they had just got their setter back from an injury, and she was much better this time and more mobile.
"We just didn't play that great, either. Collectively, it was just one of those days. We ended up with 13 hitting errors in each of the first two games, and we've played matches where we haven't even had 13 total errors."
Even with the sluggish performance, SMSU still put up some big number statistically. Senior Brooke Burmeister had a season-high 23 kills in the match to go along with 22 digs. Abbey Thissen added 17 kills, while Mary Groth had 13, and McKell Anderson had 10 kills and 17 digs.
Playing without junior libero Rachel Westby for the second straight match, the Mustangs had to rally together to make up for her loss on the defensive end. Freshman Kelsey Hennen had her first start in an SMSU uniform in the match and put forth a strong effort with 23 digs in the match.
"I thought Kelsey Hennen did a great job of passing the ball for us this weekend," Culhane said. "I was confident that she could do that, but you always wonder with a freshman. She dug the ball well, too."
Culhane said the Mustang hitters had some problems with the Upper Iowa front line during the match. The Peacocks finished with 13 total team blocks to SMSU's three.
The Mustangs now look ahead to a challenging stretch of four matches to end the regular season. It begins Thursday against Wayne State in SMSU's final road match of the season. Then comes home matches against Augustana (Nov. 3), Minnesota State-Mankato (Nov. 9) and Concordia-St. Paul (Nov. 10). All teams are in the top six in the conference.
SMSU29 21 25 25
UIU27 25 17 21
Ace Serves: SMSU-Brooke Burmeister 3, Devin Diedrich; UIU-Amanda Weiss, Kayla Wagner, Hailey Brown.
Kills: SMSU-B. Burmeister 23, Abbey Thissen 17, Mary Groth 13, McKell Anderson 10, Diedrich 9; UIU-Melanie Behnke 17, Brown 7.
Digs: SMSU-Kelsey Hennen 23, B. Burmeister 22, Anderson 17, Emilee Gutzmer 12, Whitney Burmeister 12; UIU-Weiss 20, Skylar Lesan 19, Emily Sparks 16, Danielle Gernes 11.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 63; UIU-Lesan 30.
Blocks (solo-assists): Thissen 0-3, Diedrich 0-2; UIU-Wagner 6-4, Behnke 0-3.