NCAA VOLLEYBALL: SMSU tops Augustana in NSIC tilt

MARSHALL – Behind Whitney Burmeister’s match-high 18 kills, Southwest Minnesota State extended its winning streak over Augustana to 15 straight matches with a 15-25, 25-23, 28-26, 25-20 non-conference victory over the Vikings on Tuesday.

The Mustangs’ winning streak over Augie dates back to the 2005 season and is now 15-1 against Augustana under head coach Terry Culhane. SMSU improved to 21-6 overall, while Augie dropped to 20-7.

“This was a hard-fought victory because the games were close, with the exception of the first game,” Culhane said. “There is not a lot of difference at that point (when the games are close). It just comes down to little plays.”

The Mustangs got off to a sluggish start in Set 1 and never got into a rhythm. Augustana took advantage of the as out-of-sync SMSU squad and cruised to a 10-point set victory behind Holly Hafemeyer and her three first-set kills. The Vikings committed just two errors in the set and forced seven Mustang errors.

“Give Augustana credit for being a good team because they passed very well, they had good swings at us and they were always putting pressure on us,” Culhane said. “(In the first set), we couldn’t put pressure on them.”

SMSU bounced back in Set 2 to tie the match, heading into intermission. The Mustangs turned to Abbey Thissen, who directed the offense with six kills and just two errors in the set.

SMSU trailed 12-9 but took the lead at 15-14 with one of Ellen Degler’s three service aces. The Mustangs’ lead grew to 21-17 only to see Augustana storm back to make it 21-20 and force an SMSU timeout.

Out of the timeout, the Mustangs regrouped and scored three straight points to make it 24-20. The Vikings were pesky and fended off the first three set points before Thissen slammed home the final kill to give SMSU a 25-23 win.

“We served better and handled the ball better in the second game,” Culhane said. “I thought, as the match went on, we handled the ball better and defended better. I told the players after the first game that Augustana was not going to give this match to us. We put a little more resistance to their offense and that made a big difference.”

The Mustangs faced adversity again in Set 3 as SMSU found itself down 16-13, but Burmeister came up big with a kill, followed by a Rachel Westby service ace to close the gap to 16-15.

The Mustangs forced a 21-all tie with a Claire Sames kill and later held set point at 24-23, but Brittany Cech delivered one of her nine kills in the match.

Augie had a chance to take the set shortly after Burmeister committed an attack error to make the score 25-24 in favor of the Vikings. SMSU tied the set and went ahead 27-26 on a pair of Thissen kills.

The Mustangs eventually took the set and a 2-1 lead heading into the fourth set as Claire Sames and Emilee Gutzmer teamed up to block Courtney Ysker’s attack.

“We were more consistent with our effort during the final three games,” Culhane said. “We haven’t had a lot of close matches where we had to perform at the end with pressure on us. That is a good thing that we have to deal with and learn how to cope with.”

Kills from Gutzmer and Sames had the P.E. Gym rocking, but the momentum did not roll over into the fourth set. The Vikings grew a 9-5 lead and extended it to five points with a Hafemeyer kill to push as Augie led 17-12.

SMSU began its comeback by reeling off nine straight points to erase its deficit and take a 21-17 lead. Gutmzer delivered in the clutch for SMSU as she served an ace to give the Mustangs a 25-20 set and match victory.

SMSU finished the match hitting .172 (56-27-169), collected 54 assists, 85 digs, eight aces and eight total blocks. Augustana ended the match hitting .188 (51-20-165), collected 46 assists, 71 digs, six aces and 14 total blocks.

SMSU was led by Burmeister’s match-high 18 kills, while Thissen and Sames added 13 and 11, respectively. Gutzmer finished with 50 assists and Westby had a fantastic defensive effort on Senior Night, racking up a career-high 32 digs.

SMSU (21-6, 15-3 NSIC) closes the 2013 regular season on the road this weekend with matches at MSU-Moorhead on Friday and at No. 22 Northern State on Saturday.