Dome den defended

Audrey Reeg

South Dakota’s Audrey Reeg (4) battles at the net with SDSU’s Wagner Larson (11) during Friday, Nov. 1 action at the DakotaDome.
(Photo by David Lias)

By Jeremy Hoeck

Win No. 18 and an undefeated record at home certainly didn’t come easy for the USD volleyball team.

But once the first-place Coyotes regrouped, early struggles were quickly erased.

Riding a strong finish, USD surged past North Dakota State 3-1 (16-25, 25-23, 25-11, 25-13) in Sunday afternoon’s Summit League showdown and final home match for the Coyotes — who closed with an 8-0 record in the DakotaDome ‘Den.’

“I think it showed how mature we’ve become,” said USD senior Natalie Walseth, who had 14 kills on 20 swings. “That we can push back when people push hard at us.”

On a day USD (18-8, 9-2) recognized its three seniors, that leadership — along with three juniors — proved to be critical in those tough, early moments, according to senior setter Tori Kroll.

North Dakota State hit .344 in the opening set and the Coyotes were able to sneak away with a win in a back-and-forth second set. From there, USD got rolling, thanks to a concerted effort to focus on the little things.

“Especially when we stayed here over this summer, we came together again,” said Kroll, who went over 1,000 assists on the season with 36 Sunday.

“We realized how we mesh together. And once that happened, now we know we can rely on each other out there.”

Not only was North Dakota State frustrating the Coyote defense, the visiting Bison were able to bottle USD’s leading hitter early.

Through two sets, junior Kendall Kritenbrink had an attack percentage of .000, with four kills and four errors. She then recorded 10 kills on 13 swings in set three to finish with a match-high 18 kills.

Midway through the match, the junior hitter and head coach Matt Houk had a brief chat that Houk said was more about getting back to basics.

“She was having a lot of the, ‘Why is this isn’t’ working,’” Houk said. “And that’s easy to have happen as a young athlete. We just had a conversation that, ‘Remember, you’re very talented, you might be your own worst enemy right now, so let’s just move on.’”

And once Kritenbrink turned a corner, so too did the Coyotes.

“They were difficult to defend. They were in system, and we were not being the aggressive serving team we wanted to be,” Houk said. “We didn’t start playing Coyote kind of volleyball until set three.”

That the Coyotes did, combining to commit only four errors in a dominant final two sets.

North Dakota State, which drops to 4-19 overall and 4-6 in the Summit, is still likely to qualify for the post-season conference tournament. The Bison, however, couldn’t slow down the explosive Coyotes.

“I thought we were serving aggressive, and that put them in the position when they couldn’t run their offense,” NDSU head coach Kari Thompson said. “When they’re in system, South Dakota is a great team.”

Kroll added 12 kills in the win, while Riley Haug led the defense with 16 digs, and Kaitlyn Hastings had nine digs and three aces.

With still four regular season and Summit League tournament matches left, the Coyotes still have an outside shot at the school record for wins (23), last set in 2008.

First, though, comes a Tuesday night trip to Ames, Iowa, to face Iowa State, a perennial NCAA Tournament team. And yes, that was by design, Houk said — Iowa State could be a regional draw for the Summit League representative.

That’s a good match for us; good time on the year,” Houk said. “We’ll get to see what our aspirations are a couple weeks later. It will be a really good test for us.”


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Coyotes clip ‘Rabbits

Coming off back to back conference losses, the University of South Dakota volleyball team returned to familiar ways Friday night: A strong performance at home.

Not to mention another victory over rival South Dakota State.

Picking up their seventh straight win in the series, the hometown Coyotes held off a feisty Jackrabbit team 3-1 (25-17, 20-25, 25-13, 25-23) in front of a sellout crowd at the DakotaDome ‘Den.’

Yes there was a sense of urgency for USD, but not necessarily because the Jacks were in town. But because the Coyotes needed to get back on the winning track after road losses last weekend.

“I knew I had to step up tonight,” said USD redshirt freshman Lindsey Brown, who responded to her first career start with 13 kills on 21 swings — including the last two of the final set.

“The whole team played good. And it’s always good to beat state.”

And over the last handful of years, USD has done plenty of that.

The first-place Coyotes (17-8, 8-2) have recorded season sweeps over the Jackrabbits each of the last three seasons — SDSU’s last win in the series was a neutral site affair in 2010.

Still, records for either side haven’t necessarily mattered in the South Dakota Showdown Series, according to USD head coach Matt Houk.

“We had to play really good volleyball to win,” Houk said. “That’s what it should be in this match. This series is a lot more fun when it’s competitive.”

Although the Coyotes held a commanding edge in hitting (.318 to .167), they found themselves especially tested in the deciding fourth set.

There were 20 ties in that set, including 23-23. The Coyotes, though, turned to Brown — whose previous high in kills was four this season — to close out the set and the match.

“Their hitting, overall, did really well, and they dug up a lot,” said Mikala Hora, a freshman for SDSU and native of Yankton. Hora finished the night with seven kills on 21 swings.

“We kept the pressure on them. They did a lot of things well, but so did we.”

The Coyotes were particularly balanced on offense, with four players reaching double digit in kills. Junior Kendall Kritenbrink led with 16, followed by Brown, sophomore Sydney Dimke (11) and freshman Audrey Reeg (10). Senior setter Tori Kroll recorded 53 assists.

Meanwhile for the Jackrabbits (3-19, 1-8), sophomore Wagner Larson had 10 kills on 23 swings and senior setter Lexi Fowler had 33 assists.

The series with USD has been more than stats, however, according to SDSU head coach Phil McDaniel.

“It was a great match; usually a good battle between the two of us, whether it’s our place or here,” he said. “It’s a fun get-together when these teams get on the court.”

As evidenced by the environment upstairs in the DakotaDome — the sellout crowd featured the USD band, a full student section and plenty of SDSU fans.

“I thought it was a good atmosphere,” Hora said. “They usually have a pretty good crowd that comes, and it’s fun to play in a gym like that, and play with a team like this.”

While the Jackrabbits will hit the road for a Sunday match at Denver, the Coyotes will stay at home for a Sunday 2 p.m. match against North Dakota State.

“We’re going to bounce back good and we’ll be rolling after this,” Brown said.


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