OXFORD, Miss.-- Senior Faith Dooley came into her final season needing just 12 total blocks to set the UND career record. She wasted little time to tie the mark which had stood for 26 years as she piled up 11 Friday, including six against Ole Miss to help lead North Dakota to a pair of wins on the opening day.
Her team needed all five sets to mount a comeback and eventually out-lasted the host Rebels in an epic five-set duel in the second match of the day. All told, North Dakota had to stave off five match points to claim the win over the Power 5 Conference school (Southeastern Conference). Three of those came in the fourth set before Dooley tallied back-to-back kills, part of her team-high dozen, sending it to a deciding set. Once there, UND again had to rally back before earning a 17-15 win and its second win over a Power 5 school in less than a calendar year (Sep. 8, 2016 at Clemson).
UND dug its 2-0 hole as the Rebels won the first two frames rather convincingly, 25-16 and 25-20. Enter comeback mode. With Dooley in a new-found role, she helped keep serve for the first five points of the third set as the long comeback began. The Fighting Hawks turned the tides in that third stanza, out-hitting the home team, .303 to -.056 en route to a convincing 25-14 victory. The momentum continued into the fourth set, where the teams battled to 12 tie scores and four different lead changes.
North Dakota had a lead as large as six points in that set until the Rebels reclaimed the edge at 23-22. Moments later, it was 24-23 and Ole Miss was poised to close it out. Junior Jordan Vail collected a kill, then Tamara Merseli came out of a timeout facing another match point and tallied one of her 11 kills to tie it, 27-27. A Sydney Griffin kill made it 28-28 then Dooley took matters into her own hands and ended the frame with two straight kills.
That fifth set was a barnburner of its own as the score was tied on eight different occasions and the lead changed hands three times before a winner would be declared. UND hit a robust .286 in the decider. Dooley had four of her 12 kills in that set alone.
Neither team led by more than two points in that entire fifth set. It was 12-10 Ole Miss before a Julia Kaczorowska kill. Trailing 14-12, Ashley Brueggeman was the hero this time, finishing a ball to tie it. UND had its first match point at 15-14 but a service error netted a huge sideout as OIe Miss dodged a bullet in what looked to be a very similar finish to last season's five-set marathon with these same Rebels.
This time, however, UND got a quick sideout and then sophomore Alivia Fraase ended it with a service ace for a 17-15 win and an improbable and thrlling 3-2 victory to stay undefeated on the young season.
"Today was a great start, and I'm so happy for them," UND head coach Mark Pryor said following the win. "This match was almost a carbon copy of last year, down to our first match point at 15-14, and us missing the serve. We had a quick sideout, and our kids just stayed in it long enough to let them make a couple more mistakes. Winning on the road is tough, but we earned that win tonight.
"Our offense against Ole Miss tonight was not good at all, to be blunt. But what I loved was that this group just dug in more, and our defense and blocking just really locked in. We just kept making plays. We will work on getting a better connection, and once we do, it will ease some of the pressure we put on our defenders.
"Tomorrow, we are 0-0 again in our minds, and we have a lot that we can get better at. This is a good starting point, and the kids are excited and continuing to improve."
Dooley had six blocks and coupled with her five in the three-set win earlier in the day against Chattanooga, tied the school record for career blocks. She added 12 kills and five digs. Merseli tallied 11 kills while Kaczorowska chipped in 10 with Griffin recording 40 assists in the win. Fraase was one of four UND players to record double-digit digs (Fraase 22, Merseli 19, Tamika Brekke 16, Griffin 11).
UND continues play at the Rebel Invitational Saturday with a pair of non-conference matches. North Dakota draws Louisiana Tech at 10:00 a.m. Central and Florida A&M in the nightcap at 3:00 p.m. before a Sunday trip to Georgia Tech for a match with the Yellow Jackets.
Notes: UND's career block record has been held by Karla Danielson since 1991 (488 from 1988-91) ... Each of the UND-Ole Miss matches from the last two seasons have gone five sets (Ole Miss won Aug. 27 last year at the Betty) ... Merseli (11 kills, 19 digs) and Griffin (40 assists, 11 digs) each notched their first double-doubles of the season ... North Dakota has now won 19 of its last 21 matches, dating back to last season ... North Dakota is 14-5 in five-set matches in Pryor's four seasons at UND.