NCAA VOLLEYBALL: Mustangs win NSIC opener at Augie

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – AVCA Division II No. 10-ranked Southwest Minnesota State began its Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play with a 3-1 victory over previously unbeaten Augustana College 25-12, 25-23, 21-25, 25-21 on Thursday.

“This was a good performance against one of the top teams in our conference,” SMSU head coach Terry Culhane said. “Its hard to win on the road, especially in our conference. Our team did a great job of competing. (Coming into the match),?I didn’t know how we would react at that point. But I was happy with how we reacted and I feel fortunate to get this win.”

The Mustangs (6-3 overall, 1-0 NSIC) were led by McKell Anderson, who recorded a career-high tying 18 kills and a career-high 20 digs, while Abbey Thissen added 14 kills. Rachel Westby led the SMSU defense by tying a career-high with 28 digs with Emilee Gutzmer finishing with 50 assists to help pace the offense.

The Mustangs ended the night hitting .181 (59-26-182), while limiting the Vikings to a .158 (42-16-165) hitting percentage.

SMSU has now won 14 straight over Augustana, with the Vikings’ last victory coming on Sept. 21, 2004. Prior to the Mustangs’ current winning streak in the series, Augustana had won 25 straight over SMSU from 1987 to 2004.

The Mustangs jumped out to an early lead in Game 1, reeling off nine straight points, to build a 16-5 lead and never looked back in taking the set. SMSU hit .300 as a team in the opening set and limited the Vikings to a .000 hitting percentage.

“Entering this match, Augustana was statistically hitting .330 as a team. That is really impressive,” Culhane said. “It’s has been an area that we have not been strong, which we’re still working to improve. We have tried to be strong, defensively, and Augustana didn’t hit as well (Thursday night).”

Augustana led for a majority of Game 2, including building leads of 18-14 and 22-19, before the Mustangs mounted a furious rally. Back-to-back kills by Thissen and an Augustana hitting error tied the score at 22. Following an SMSU service error, the Mustangs closed the set with three straight points behind a kill from Sarah Parker, a service ace by Westby and a set-clinching kill by Thissen.

In Game 3, SMSU built an early 9-5 lead – keyed upon three kills by Anderson – before Augustana earned 12 of the next 16 points to take a 17-13 advantage. SMSU cut the lead to 18-17, before five straight points by Augustana pushed the margin to 23-17 and helped the Vikings win the set.

“We have not been a great blocking team this season, but we did a good job of keeping balls off the floor,” Culhane said. “We had 97 digs and that is a great total for us.”

The Mustangs trailed 15-13 in Game 4, before answering with six straight points, capped by back-to-back kills by Whitney Burmeister and Claire Sames to build a 19-15 lead. Augustana trimmed its deficit to 21-20, but a kill by Sames and an attack error by the Vikings pushed the SMSU lead 23-20, before Thissen closed the match with a kill to secure the victory.

Sames finished with 11 kills and hit .219, with Burmeister chipping in with 10 kills and 23 digs.

Southwest Minnesota State begins its home season Saturday afternoon at the P.E. Gym, when it takes on No. 7-ranked and undefeated Wayne State (9-0, 1-0 NSIC) at 4 p.m.