NCAA VOLLEYBALL: SMSU splits pair during Premier

DENVER – Southwest Minnesota State split a pair of matches at The Premier Challenge on Saturday.

The Mustangs (5-3 overall), ranked No. 14 in the nation, were swept by No. 1-ranked Tampa 25-12, 26-24, 25-15 in Saturday’s first match. SMSU rebounded to defeat No. 11-ranked Angelo State 21-25, 28-26, 25-16, 25-22 for third place.

Against Tampa, Abbey Thissen had 10 kills, while McKell Anderson and Claire Sames each added six for SMSU. Emilee Gutzmer recorded 26 assists and Rachel Westby was the Mustangs’ dig leader with 10. Sames, Thissen and Sarah Parker each posted a block.

Leading 16-12, Tampa scored the final nine points to secure the Game 1 win. Tampa won Game 2 by tallying the final three points, while it won the match by scoring the final six points in Game 3.

“Both Abbey and Claire were terminating the ball as far as swings go,” SMSU head coach Terry Cuhlane said. “Claire was solid for us the whole weekend. She created a presence that gave our opponents problems. Abbey got better as the weekend went on.”

Against Angelo State, the Mustangs rebounded from a Game 1 loss to win three straight games.

Thissen and Sames led the way with 17 and 16 kills, respectively. Whitney Burmeister added double-digit kills with 10. Gutzmer set up 54 assists, while Westby dug up 28 digs and Crista Wolf chipped in 11 more.

“We showed signs of improvement from the previous weekend (at Grand Valley State) and, clearly, we were playing high-level competition,” Culhane said. “We believe that will make us better. We did some really good things over the weekend, but we still battled inconsistency as a team.”

Culhane would like to see SMSU improve its hitting percentage and its front-row defense when it comes to blocking the ball.

The Mustangs open Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play Thursday with a road match against Augustana in Sioux Falls, S.D.