NCAA VOLLEYBALL: Mustangs top Dragons in 4, get No. 3 seed

MOORHEAD – No. 8-ranked Southwest Minnesota State secured at least the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament with a 23-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-21 road victory over Minnesota State-Moorhead on Friday night.

The Mustangs improved to 22-6 overall, 16-3 against the NSIC and holds a two-match lead over fourth-place Northern State. The Dragons dropped to 15-12 overall, 8-11 versus the NSIC.

SMSU closes the regular season at Northern State at 5 p.m today. The Mustangs trail second-place Minnesota-Duluth by one match, heading into the final day of the season. The Bulldogs host No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul today.

Claire Sames paced SMSU with 17 kills and finished with a .316 hitting percentage. Sarah Parker also had a big night for the Mustangs, racking up a career-high 13 kills, while hitting a team-high .360. Abby Thissen had 15 kills, while McKell Anderson and Whitney Burmeister each added 11 more. Emilee Gutzmer ended up a match-high 54 assists, while Rachel Westby added a match-high 22 digs.

SMSU finished the match hitting .256 (68-24-172) with 69 digs and six blocks. MSU-Moorhead ended the match hitting .228 (48-15-145) with 62 digs and 12 blocks.

The Dragons started the match strong and led for much of Set 1. MSU-Moorhead held a 24-19 lead before SMSU reeled off four straight points, capped by a McKell Anderson kill, to make the score 24-23 and forcing the Dragons to call a timeout. But following the timeout, MSU-Moorhead was able to end the run with a kill by Maggie Gruber to earn the set victory 25-23.

The Mustangs answered in Set 2, turning an 8-7 lead into a 22-13 lead with a 14-4 run. The Dragons scored four of the next five points to make the score 23-17, but back-to-back kills by Parker closed the set for SMSU and even the match.

The two teams played to a 10-10 score in Set 3 before kills by Burmeister and Parker sandwiched around an MSU-Moorhead hitting error gave the Mustangs a 13-10 lead and forcing a Dragon timeout. A kill later in the set by Parker made the score 23-18 in favor of SMSU, but MSU-Moorhead countered with four unanswered points to force a Mustang timeout. The rallied quickly ended following the timeout as a service error and a service ace by the Mustangs’ Ellen Degler closed out a 25-22 Mustang set victory and take a 2-1 lead.

The Dragons stormed out in Set 4, building a 10-2 lead and forcing SMSU to burn a pair of timeouts. The Mustangs slowly cut into the lead and, following a service ace by Gutzmer to make the score 14-10, MSU-Moorhead called its first timeout of the set.

The Dragons scored the next two points, but kills by Parker and Thissen and a Dragon hitting error made the score 16-13. Trailing 20-18, SMSU made another big run with Anderson collecting a kill and was followed by an ace serve by Burmeister and a kill by Sames to give the Mustangs their first lead of the set at 21-20.

A service error by SMSU tied the match at 21, but a pair of kills by Anderson and one each by Sames and Parker closed the match to secure the Mustangs’ fourth straight victory and improve its record to 7-3 on the road.

Southwest Minnesota State begins the NSIC tournament at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday versus an opponent to be determined.