GRAND FORKS, N.D. - University of North Dakota Head Volleyball Coach Ashley Hardee announced his team's 2013 schedule Wednesday, a slate that includes huge non-league home tilts and the second season of Big Sky Conference play.
The schedule opens with the most impressive group of teams ever invited to the annual UND Classic, set for Aug. 30-31 at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. A pair of NCAA Tournament teams, Iowa State and Texas A&M , along with rival South Dakota State make up the four-team tournament. Iowa State finished 2012 ranked No. 14 nationally, advancing to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAAs while Texas A&M lost to eventual national champion Texas in the second round. The combined record among those three opponents was 64-26 (.711) last season.
"It's going to be an exciting weekend," Hardee said of the UND Classic. "Having those two highly-ranked teams and a rivalry in South Dakota State, it's going to be exciting."
That tilt with SDSU is the first of the rivalry series which will see UND battle each of the other NCAA Division I schools in the Dakotas. The second match will be a tough road tilt at South Dakota on Sep. 16. The final non-conference match happens on Sep. 30, the highly-anticipated duel with North Dakota State at home.
"It's a big deal for us to play those schools," Hardee said. "It's definitely competitive but it goes far beyond that, into recruiting and just what we need to do to be the best team in the region. Obviously, those rivalry games are huge."
North Dakota will be eyeing its third win in as many seasons against the Bison after a 3-0 sweep in Fargo, N.D. last year. That match will come after UND has already opened Big Sky Conference play, opening with a trip to play Montana State (Sep. 20) and Montana (Sept. 21) before home matches with Weber State and Idaho State on Sept. 26 and 28, respectively. The following two weeks see matches against defending league-tournament champion Northern Colorado and reigning regular-season champ Portland State.
"I think we're developing a little bit of history with Northern Colorado," Hardee admitted. "We played them three times last year and two of them went to five sets. We split with the regular season champ last year, Portland State. They return a lot and will likely be a favorite coming into the season. I think those two will be some of the bigger matches we'll play in the Big Sky."
Overall, the schedule features four matches against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Following that challenging season-opening home tournament, UND will play its next 10 away from home on road and neutral courts in prep for another run at the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
"Our strength of schedule is going to be tough, but we're up for it," Hardee said "We bring everybody back with some key freshmen in the mix so I really like the makeup of our team. I think the competitive schedule that we have will be a good test for us."
North Dakota, who did not have a senior on its roster last year, finished the season 15-17 overall and 10-10 in its first campaign in the Big Sky, grabbing the fifth seed in the postseason tournament. UND lost to eventual champion UNC, who was playing on its home floor by virtue of its 2011 regular season title. This season's league tournament is slated for Nov. 29 and 30 at Portland State.
*UND owns a 112-41 all-time Division I record.
*Coach Hardee is 88-33 (.727) in his career - easily the best winning percentage at UND
*UND is just seven wins shy of 600 all-time heading into the 2013 season