For the 10th consecutive season the Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball team found itself in the NCAA tournament and for the fourth consecutive season the Mustangs earned a first round victory. This season it was Washburn who fell victim to the Mustangs, who prevailed in the five-set thriller by set scores of 25-27, 25-18, 25-27, 25-15, 15-11). SMSU advances to the NCAA second round to face No. 1 Minnesota Duluth.
SMSU was down 2-1 after four sets, but came back to force a fifth set for just the second time this season. SMSU was 2-2 in five-set matches coming in but managed its third five-set victory of the season. SMSU is now 8-10 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
Four Mustangs had big nights as Abbey Thissen led the charge as she racked up 18 kills, while McKell Anderson (16), Whitney Burmeister (15), and Claire Sames (14) wer not far behind. Senior libero Rachel Westby was automatic in the back row as she tallied a career-high 39 digs in the match -- breaking her previous high of 32.
"Rachel is a pretty good player," grinned head coach Terry Culhane. "She did a great job and was aggressive in what she did - ball control is a very important part and gets overlooked a lot and Rachel is very important to what we did tonight."
In set one it was Washburn that exploded out to a 5-0 lead forcing Terry Culhane's hand as the 10th year head coach took an early timeout to slow the momentum. It didn't take very long until Culhane had to burn his second and final timeout of the set as the Ichabods owned a 12-5 advantage. Out of the timeout, Burmeister served SMSU to four straight points to pull within three and the Mustangs eventually tied the set up at 17-17 with a 12-5 run. SMSU took its first lead of the set at 20-19 when Burmeister reeled off three straight attacks for kills. SMSU fended off two Washburn set points but the third time was the charm for the Ichabods as they took the set 27-25 on back-to-back kills.
It was SMSU in set two that got off to a fast start as the Mustangs built a 9-4 lead that forced a Washburn timeout. The lead would grow to as much as eight points at 20-12 when Anderson slammed home back-to-back kills. The kills forced Washburn to take its second and final timeout of the set but SMSU wouldn't slow as the Mustangs coasted to a 25-18 set victory.
The third set was close all set long as SMSU held the largest lead of the set by both teams, which was three points, when the Mustangs owned a 10-7 lead. SMSU would strike first as Anderson and company held set point at 24-23, but Anderson's serve went into the net and Washburn took advantage. With the score even at 25, the Ichabods used back-to-back block assists to suck the air out of the Mustangs' sails and take a 2-1 match lead.
With the fourth set at 14-13 in favor of the Ichabods, SMSU used an incredible 12-1 run to force a fifth set. Sames served SMSU to nine straight points that included two Anderson kills and two block assists by Sarah Parker and Emilee Gutzmer.
SMSU got off to a fast start in set five to steal away all momentum as the Mustangs owned a 12-6 advantage coming out of a timeout. But Washburn wasn't done yet as the Ichabods pushed across four straight points to put SMSU on its heels and call both timeouts within the run. A setting error by Leanna Willer gave SMSU match point at 14-11 and Westby wasted little time to put the match away as her ensuing serve landed in the stands as Korie Thompson couldn't receive the service attempt.
SMSU advances to the NCAA second round tomorrow night to play No. 1 Minnesota Duluth at 9:30 a.m.
Courtesy: Adam Henning, SMSU