By Jeremy Hoeck
That “unfinished business” adage for the USD volleyball team was certainly backed up by a nice weekend.
After a win last Friday over defending Summit League tournament champion Fort Wayne, the Coyotes battled to a 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon at the DakotaDome over last year’s regular season champion IUPUI.
Put into perspective, USD (11-6, 2-0) has now won its last seven conference matches, dating back to last season when the squad narrowly missed out on the post-season tournament.
“These have been two of the best teams the last few years, so that’s a great weekend for us,” said junior Kendall Kritenbrink, who had a match-high 22 kills.
Not only that, but the Coyotes are already significantly ahead of last year’s pace. A year ago, USD started 2-7 in league play.
“The one thing it proves is it’ll put a target on our back,” said head coach Matt Houk said. “You go out and knock out the top two teams in the league last year, and there’s nobody that will dismiss you anymore.”
Freshman outside hitter Audrey Reeg, on the other hand, didn’t realize the magnitude of the two wins, she joked.
“I didn’t know about it until after the game that we beat the two best teams,” said Reeg, who had 11 kills (and just one error) with 11 digs. “That’s awesome to know. That’s a good accomplishment.”
Sunday, however, started out slow for the home team.
Hampered by 10 attack errors, the Coyotes mustered a hitting percentage of .000 in a 22-25 set one loss — though IUPUI wasn’t much better, at .108.
The Coyotes were significantly cleaner in set two, with just four attack errors on 45 attempts — a .311 mark, led by eight kills from Kritenbrink to win 26-24.
IUPUI controlled set three after trailing early 11-16 to come back and win 25-20, frustrating the Coyote offensive attack.
“They were on all our hitters, with that big block against us,” Kritenbrink said. “That was a big struggle at first, but we finally figured it out and switched some things around, and that worked.”
The biggest change for USD was moving Kritenbrink and Reeg to the left side of the court. It paid off, as the pair combined for 20 kills over the final three sets.
“I changed my mentality halfway through, to swing hard and that gave me a lot of success,” Reeg said.
Kritenbrink keyed USD with six kills in set four, as the hosts responded to the gut check by winning 25-19. The Coyotes then came out firing in the deciding fifth set, jumping in front 7-2 on the way to a 15-11 victory.
“We definitely didn’t play to our potential, but I think the sign of a good team is a team that can find success even when not everything’s clicking,” Houk said.
Sophomore Sydney Dimke added 12 kills in the win, while senior Tori Kroll had 52 set assists. Sophomore Kaitlyn Hastings led the defense with 20 kills and junior Melissa Firtko added three solo blocks.
The Coyotes will take their unbeaten league start on Interstate 29 for a pair of matches next weekend, Friday at North Dakota State and Saturday at South Dakota State.
“It’s still really early, but it’s good to know we can play with these teams,” Kritenbrink said. “They better be ready for us.”
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck. Discuss this story at www.yankton.net.