NCAA VOLLEYBALL: Sioux Falls upsets No. 6 Mustangs in five

MARSHALL – The University of Sioux Falls rallied to win the final three sets and stun No. 6 Southwest Minnesota State 15-25, 19-25, 27-25, 25-16 and 15-13 on Tuesday at P.E. Gym.

The Mustangs (15-5 overall, 10-2 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) committed 31 errors and were blocked 18 times in the loss.

“Any time that have a Game 5, it’s kind of like Russian Roulette,” Mustangs head coach Terry Culhane said. “Give USF a lot of credit. They stayed aggressive. When we defeated the Cougars earlier this season in Sioux Falls, it was a match similar to this one. I thought we were lucky to win that one. USF stayed with its attack, kept putting pressure on us and was the better team Tuesday.”

It was SMSU’s first loss to USF (13-8 overall, 5-7 NSIC) in series history and the first loss at home since Nov. 10, 2012, when the Mustangs fell to Concordia-St. Paul in front of a record crowd of 2,152.

The Mustangs were without reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year Emilee Gutzmer, who was held out of the game due to an injury. Rachel Westby forfeited her libero jersey and took over the setting duties. Westby filled in remarkably as the senior tallied a season-high 62 assists for the Mustangs. Westby also managed seven digs in the match.

Westby spread the ball around as four Mustangs reached double-digit kill totals in the match – Abbey Thissen led with 17, while Whitney Burmeister, Claire Sames and Nico Schmidt each had 15. Burmeister also dug up 10 Sioux Falls’ attacks to record her ninth career double-double.

SMSU cruised to straight victories in Sets 1 and 2, limiting the Cougars to hitting percentages of .071 and .161, respectively. In those sets, the Mustangs combined to hit just seven errors, but committed 24 throughout Sets 3, 4 and 5.

The third set saw the Mustangs and Cougars with 12 tied scores and five lead changes before USF rode a potent serving to the set victory. SMSU held match point in the third set with the score 25-24, but Ellen Degler’s service error tied up the score. USF used NSIC-leading service specialist Becky Wessel to reel off two straight points and take the set.

The momentum carried over into the fourth set, when the Cougars blazed their way to a 10-2 lead and forced SMSU to use both timeouts. USF dominated the net with Samantha Lovell, Emily Johnson and Jordan Calef.

Lovell finished the match with eight block assists and three solo denials, while Johnson and Calef each earned six block assists. Four Cougars finished the match with five block assists or more. Lovell and Johnson each had 11 kills. USF took the set easily 25-16.

The fifth set was back-and-forth throughout, but SMSU found itself down 10-8. The Mustangs chased down the Cougars and make it a 13-13 score with a Sames kill, but it was USF that turned to its serving once again. Emily Johnson put the Mustangs out of position defensively and allowed a clean attack and kill by Kate Hart to complete the comeback and upset.

SMSU welcome Bemidji State on Friday and Minnesota-Crookston on Saturday to the P.E. Gym.

Friday’s match versus Bemidji State is the third annual “Red Out,” presented by the Minnesota National Guard. Fans are encouraged to wear red in an effort to raise awareness of heart disease. The first 500 fans will receive a free “Red Out” T-shirt.