GRAND FORKS, N.D.- North Dakota clinched a share of the Big Sky Conference's regular season title Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 (25-13, 25-16, 25-12) sweep over Southern Utah at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. The win gave UND its first league title in any sport in the Big Sky in its second season affiliated with the conference.
UND (22-10, 17-3 Big Sky) was led by senior Ellen Krueger, who etched a career-high 11 kills playing in her final home contest at the Betty. The offense was spread around as five different UND players notched at least a half-dozen kills in the win.
North Dakota came in knowing a win would clinch at least a share of the league title and it hammered on the gas pedal from the start. UND grabbed early leads in all three sets with just one lead change happening in the early stages of the second set. The home team built a quick 10-3 start and cruised to a 25-13 win in the opening frame.
That set saw UND outhit the Thunderbirds .262 to .051 on a night that had UND hold its opponent to -.028 hitting for the match. Krueger and Anna Pioske (11 kills) were the main weapons in the North Dakota offense as the duo teamed for 22 kills against just two errors on 45 attempts (.444).
That second set saw SUU (4-26, 3-17) get a 3-1 lead, but it wouldn't last and UND gained the lead and never trailed again in the match. Pioske had a kill to start the 14-7 run for North Dakota and the freshman had eight finishes going into the final set.
In the third, Krueger took advantage of more opportunities, killing five balls on nine swings without an error to wrap up her career night. It was 5-0 UND with two of those coming off Krueger attacks to force a Thunderbird timeout. Although SUU fought to get it back to 9-7, UND again charged away with an 11-2 spurt for a commanding 20-9 lead that would wind up a 25-12 victory and UND's first league title in the Big Sky Conference among any program.
Lexi Robinson had eight kills while Lisa Parlich added seven kills with five blocks and Ronni Munkeby produced six kills and four total blocks. Nikki Husfeldt had 39 assists and nine digs while Lauren Clarke and McKenzie Hart each chipped in 11 digs.
North Dakota tied with Portland State, who hung on to beat Idaho State 3-2 Saturday, to share the conference crown. PSU will host the Big Sky Conference Tournament with the top seed and UND will earn the No. 2 seed and a bye into the semifinal round in the six-team tourney set to start on Friday.
Notes: Saturday's attendance of 1,193 put UND's average home crowd at 1,130, most by any Big Sky Conference team since 2006 ... UND's attendance was ranked 36th in all of NCAA Division I heading into the week ... UND has won three regular season championships (2 Great West, 1 Big Sky) under head coach Ashley Hardee and will go for its fourth postseason league title next week in just five seasons ... All three seniors started the match in their final home matches of their careers ... North Dakota improves to 6-1 all-time against the Thunderbirds ... UND's senior class is now 88-37 with three league titles (2 Great West, 1 Big Sky).