VERMILLION, S.D. (USD) – South Dakota is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons thanks to an emphatic sweep over Omaha in Saturday’s Summit League tournament championship that took place in front of 1,097 fans inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.
The second-seeded Coyotes, winning their second straight tournament title, pulled out a couple of dramatic sets, 25-23, 30-28 to take a 2-0 lead and never looked back in set three to finish it off 25-16.
South Dakota, moving to 20-9 on the season, matched a season-high for a three-set match with 57 kills while hitting .372, the fifth-highest three-set hitting percentage in tournament history.
Omaha, the regular season champions for the first time in league history, hit .195 in the match with 43 kills, 17 errors on 133 swings.
“I’m very proud of this team,” coach Leanne Williamson said. “This has been a tough year for everybody. But, obviously knowing the inner workings of our team. I know that it’s been a challenge in a lot of ways and going from a spring season into a fall season without that training period.
“I think it held us back in some situations at the beginning of the year, but I very much always rely on that trust the process idea and I think this team absolutely did that.”
The two teams split a pair of regular season matches, each winning on the other’s home floor, one a five-set win for South Dakota and the other a four-set victory for Omaha.
So you expected another great, tightly-contested matchup, that never materialized, especially after Omaha fell behind 2-0.
The Coyotes, who staved off three match points in the semifinals against South Dakota State, fell behind early in set one as it was 15-10 Omaha at the set one media timeout. It was still 25-20 Omaha before South Dakota turned the tide, scoring 10 of the final 13 points to record the set one victory.
Omaha, who had just four attack errors in the opening set, saw three of them come in the final six points after leading 22-21. A service error, one of only three in the match for the Mavericks, concluded the set.
“There were times where we could have folded, you know, after losing to Omaha on our home floor a couple of weeks ago, and kind of taking us out of the running for that first place spot in the conference,” said Williamson. “It could have set us back, but I actually think it made us work a little bit harder.
“This team, I mean, after a really, really tough five-set match last night, you know, getting out of here after 10:30 at night, coming back, doing film, being prepared for a really, really, really good Omaha team says a lot about I think just the determination that they came in with today.”
South Dakota had 18 kills in the opening set, including nine from Elizabeth Juhnke, named tournament MVP for the second straight season. Sami Slaughter added five kills in set one as the Coyotes hit .469 to open the match, then posted hitting percentages of .345 in set two and .324 in set three.
Juhnke, who had 10 kills in a thrilling set two victory, including the final point that was overturned to South Dakota after Williamson challenged the out call. The review showed the ball was in, giving the set to the home team and a 2-0 lead and all the momentum heading into set three.
“We actually looked more confident in some situations today than what we have in the last couple of weeks,” said Williamson. “We showed some really good fighting determination in both the first and second sets, but maybe especially in the second set when it went back and forth.
“Once we came out in that third set, we got that first run, I’m a person I never feel like it’s over until it’s over, but I felt like we were just able to build on that and our confident grew and made all the difference in the world.”
Juhnke finished with 24 kills while hitting .463, with her 24 kills equaling a school record for a three-set match and the most in a three-set match inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center. Slaughter provided 15 kills on 30 swings with no errors, hitting .500.
Madison Jurgens contributed 46 assists, a season-high for three-sets, while also coming up with 14 digs for her 11th double-double of the season. Jurgens and Slaughter joined Juhnke on the nine-member all-tournament team.
Lolo Weideman had 23 digs and four assists while Brooklyn Bollweg had eight digs and Juhnke seven.
South Dakota fought off five set point attempts for Omaha in set two before finally closing out the set with its second opportunity by getting kills from Slaughter and Juhnke to snap a 28-28 tie.
The Coyotes scored the first five points of set three and kept the momentum to finish out the match in three sets.
South Dakota will learn its NCAA tournament fate during Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. selection show on ESPNU.