By Jeremy Hoeck
Yes, it was possible for a team coming off an impressive tournament title at Montana State to have nerves on its own home court.
Just not enough to slow down its momentum.
In front of a capacity crowd at its intimate setting in the DakotaDome, USD beat North Dakota 3-1 (21-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-17) on Monday night, Sept. 16.
Off to its best start in five years, the Coyotes (9-3) survived some early jitters to win their seventh match in eight tries.
“There’s not only excitement, but we’ve been playing pretty well,” head coach Matt Houk said. “And we have to come home now and everyone gets to watch us do this.
“We had to shake that out a little bit.”
That USD did, overcoming 14 attack errors over the first two sets by recording a total of six over the final two.
In doing so, the Coyotes continued their non-conference surge two days after winning the Montana State Bobcat Classic.
“I think we’re just keeping our pace and pushing it,” senior setter Tori Kroll said. “Usually bigger teams don’t know how to come against faster players, and we have a faster offense.”
That offense produced three players with at least 10 kills, led by junior Kendall Kritenbrink (18), sophomore Sydney Dimke (12) and sophomore Kelsey Biltoft (10).
In the past, USD would have struggled to score if Kritenbrink — who recently eclipsed 1,000 career kills — had an off night, Houk said.
What was the key adjustment Monday for the Coyotes?
“It was definitely our blocking, that separated us from them,” Kritenbrink said. “We were ready for them, we blocked really (last) weekend, so that’s helped us out.”
North Dakota committed only two attack errors in set one, while the Coyotes had seven errors.
USD also had seven errors in set two, but adjusted better to the UND attack — helped by nine errors by the visitors.
There were no such issues for the Coyotes in set three (just one error) and USD dominated the net in the final stretch to win 25-19.
Ditto for set four. Clearly those early jitters were history.
“When we got past that, we got focused and played our game,” said Kroll, who had 41 set assists. She went over 1,000 for her career last Saturday.
With their home debut out of the way, the Coyotes return to the road this weekend for the Wichita State Shocker Classic. There, USD will face a pair of top-25 squads in No. 7 Hawaii and No. 23 Creighton, along with the host school.
Equating USD’s underdog chances to the 1980 USA ‘miracle’ hockey team, Houk said his team has already embraced that challenge.
“We’re going to find out how tough we are this weekend,” he said. “Any given night, if you play your best volleyball and lay it all out on the line, you have an opportunity.”
Added Kroll, “We get to have that competition and see if we’re ready for that.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck.