MARSHALL -When the Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball team faced a late surge by Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference foe Augustana (S.D.) in the first set Saturday afternoon, the nation's top-ranked team did as its has all year - it found a way to win, setting the tone for the entire match.
In the end, the Mustangs earned a 25-23, 25-20, 25-18 sweep, extending their school-record winning streak to 18 straight matches and improving their record to 25-1 overall and 17-1 in the NSIC. The Vikings drop to 17-10 overall and 11-7 in conference action.
From the first play of the night, Mustang freshman Abbey Thissen was an unstoppable force at the net, hammering down a team-high 17 kills on 25 attempts. The dominating effort propelled SMSU to an overall .276 hitting percentage, compared to Augustana's .129.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Southwest Minnesota State’s Devin Diedrich, left, rises up for a hit attempt during Saturday’s Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match against Augustana at the PE?Gym on the campus of SMSU.
"I think we played really well as a team," Thissen said. "We all did our roles. Our middles did a really nice job of keeping their middles occupied, so it really opened up the antennae hitters, for them to swing. They occupied our blockers, so I had a lot of opportunities on the right side and I tried to take full advantage of them."
With two ace serves, Marshall native Kayla Wallerich sparked a 5-0 run to give Augustana a 21-19 advantage in the opening set. After trading points, the Vikings continued to lead 23-21, but a kill from Thissen and an Augustana hitting error allowed SMSU to knot the score at 23, forcing the Vikings to take a timeout.
Following the eighth hitting error of the night for the Viking, Thissen pounded her fifth kill of the match to help the Mustangs win Set 1.
Augustana23 20 18
SMSU25 25 25
Serving (aces): SMSU-McKell Anderson 2, Rachel Westby, Whitney Burmeister; A-Kayla Wallerich 3, Julia Witt 2, Grace Sanders.
Kills: SMSU-Abbey Thissen 17, Brooke Burmeister 14, Mary Groth 7, Devin Diedrich 6, Anderson 4, Emilee Gutzmer 2; A-Courtney Ysker 9, Holly Hafemeyer 9, Taylor Hrdlichka 9, Wallerich 2, Jordan Spatenka 2, Megan Bezdicek 1.
Digs: SMSU-Westby 15, Gutzmer 13, W. Burmeister 11, Kelsey Hennen 7, B. Burmeister 7, Anderson 6; A-Sanders 15, Ysker 12, Witt 11, Marissa Johnson 6, Wallerich 5.
Set Assists: SMSU-Gutzmer 43; A-Johnson 30.
Blocks (solo-assists): SMSU-Diedrich 3-1, Thissen 0-2, Groth 0-2, Gutzmer 0-1; A-Hrdlichka 0-4, Ysker 0-3, Hafemeyer 0-2, Spatenka 0-1, Bezdicek 0-1.
"I thought we took what they gave us," SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. "Abbey got a chance to swing and that says a lot for our middles, who kept their blockers occupied and were willing to sacrifice themselves. That gave Abbey lots of opportunities. I thought Emilee (Gutzmer) did a great job of picking where to go. Abbey and Brooke (Burmeister) really did a good job of executing."
Burmeister recorded four kills in the first set and finished the match with 14. Middles Mary Groth contributed seven kills, while Devin Diedrich had six kills and three solo blocks. Gutzmer registered 43 set assists.
"Everybody plays us different," Culhane said. "A lot of teams will try to stay with our middles because they know how good they are, how productive they are and that's one of the things, I think, that has made us tougher this year. When teams commit to shutting down our middles, then we have other people who can make them pay. I thought (Saturday) was a good example. Abbey and Brooke got a lot of opportunities and they took advantage of them."
Two kills from Thissen and one from Groth gave the Mustangs an early 3-1 lead in Set 2, but the Vikings were quick to battle back, tying the score at 3-all. Two kills from Burmeister and an ace serve from McKell Anderson gave SMSU a 10-5 edge.
Two more Thissen kills and a solo block from Diedrich stretched the lead to 18-10 as the Mustangs continued to find success at the net. But Augustana was not ready to roll over and battled back from a 23-15 deficit to pull to within three points. Despite the 5-0 run, the Vikings could not complete the comeback. Kills from Burmeister and Groth closed out the set.
While the Mustangs dominated at the net, outhitting Augustana by 50 kills to 32, SMSU also put forth a stout defensive effort, recording 67 digs to the Vikings' 51. Libero Rachel Westby led the Mustang defense with 15 digs, followed by Gutzmer's 13 and Whitney Burmeister's 11.
After being tied 3-all in the third set, SMSU surged ahead to a 7-3 lead behind two kills from Diedrich and an ace serve from Anderson. But Augustana continued to mount its own attack, behind power hitters Holly Hafemeyer and Courtney Ysker, forcing a tie at 8 and then taking a 12-10 lead.
After a timeout, the Mustangs again showed why they're ranked No. 1 in the country in Division II volleyball. Along with an ace serve from Westby, four different players recorded five straight kills to give SMSU a 16-12 lead.
After a kill from Augustana's Taylor Hrdlichka, the Mustangs stretched their advantage to six, at 19-13, before SMSU hitting errors began to pile up, giving the Viking the opportunity to close in once again. But despite allowing Augustana to cut the deficit down to three points, the Mustangs were able to earn the sweep, closing out with three straight kills.
Wallerich finished the match with five digs, three ace serves, two kills and one set assist.
"We've been having a good year," Wallerich said. "We just have to work on being more consistent and fighting all the time. I love coming back, just because I grew up here. It's always fun."
Hafemeyer, Ysker and Hrdlichka led Viking attack with nine kills apiece. Marissa Johnson tallied 30 set assists, while Grace Sanders anchored the defense with 15 digs.
As a freshman, Thissen said she never dreamed she would be where she is right now. But she attributes her success to all the work she did back in high school, the coaches who have helped her along the way and her parents who have pushed her to excel.
"It was a big adjustment (from the high school to the college level), but I really like it," Thissen said. "The pace of the game is a lot faster, but it's a lot of fun."
With the two matches remaining, against NSIC rivals Minnesota State-Mankato (17-8, 11-6) and Concordia-St. Paul (21-3, 15-2), Culhane likes where his team is at.
"We've talked about that we get to control our own situation here," Culhane said "And the kids have done a good job of that. I still think we have room for improvement, in things that we're doing. It's been a fun group to coach and we'll just keep pushing. Hopefully our kids will continue to do the same."