GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- Powered by Felicia Ulrich's career-high 21 kills, the University of North Dakota defeated Eastern Washington (18-25, 25-22, 25-20, 33-31) Saturday night in Big Sky Conference action at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. With the win, UND clinched a berth in the postseason conference tournament in two weeks.
The final set featured a rally by the home team to punch its postseason ticket in the first season in its new league. UND (15-14, 10-8 Big Sky) once trailed 11-4 and fought-off seven EWU set-points in the final frame to send 871 fans home happy in the home finale. The 33-31 score in the fourth set was the longest set of the season for North Dakota as it recorded its first-ever Big Sky weekend series sweep (Thursday win vs. Portland, Saturday vs. EWU).
Ulrich's kill total was easily a career best (previous best: 17 vs. Stephen F. Austin last season). Her eight finishes in the second set alone helped the home team even the match after EWU (4-25, 4-14) had hit .484 in a 25-18 opening-set victory. Ulrich hit .488 for the night, powering down her career-best total on just 41 swings with only one error.
While it was a solid night offensively for UND with three players with at least a dozen kills (Ulrich, Ronni Munkeby and Lexi Robinson), it was the defense that came up big in the final set to earn the win. The Eagles' tandem of Talia Fernandez and Cora Kellerman recorded 18 kills apiece as UND searched for an answer to the new-found EWU offense that had generated wins in four of its last six outings. It found the answer in the fourth set, forcing the duo into seven attack errors in that set alone, many coming on six total blocks.
Lisa Parlich had a hand in on each of those blocks (one solo, five assisted) to complement her night. After starting with just two kills in the first two sets combined, Parlich had six kills and six blocks over the final two sets to usher UND into the conference tournament.
It would've been easy to assume that this match would've gone to a fifth set after the slow UND start to the fourth set and EWU having seven attempts to win with service. Each time UND found a way to dodge. North Dakota had to produce an 11-4 run of its own just to tie the score at 20-all. From there, it was a back-and-forth assault as the score was re-tied nine more times before UND finally strung together three straight points to end it. Robinson's kill made it 31-apiece then Kellerman was stuffed by Parlich and Ellen Krueger for UND's first set-point attempt. Munkeby wasted little time in putting the match away, firing home a service ace to seal it.
Nikki Husfeldt tallied 54 assists in the win while Ulrich (21 kills, 10 digs) and Robinson (12 kills, 15 digs) each grabbed double-doubles. It was Ulrich's first double-double of her career.
UND, who currently sits in the fifth spot in the six-team league race, will close-out its regular season with road matches at Northern Arizona and Southern Utah next Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The Big Sky Tournament is slated for Nov. 23-24 in Greeley, Colo. on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado.