GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- University of North Dakota head volleyball coach Mark Pryor announced his team's home schedule for the upcoming 2017 season. The defending Big Sky Conference regular season and tournament champions will welcome a dozen teams to the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center this season, including a pair of regional rivals and the annual UND Classic.
"Our home schedule features twelve matches, and I know that we always enjoy playing in front of an energetic and supportive crowd at the Betty," Pryor said. "There was a bit of a scheduling glitch with the Big Sky volleyball schedule, so once we get to the middle of October, we will have six of our final eight conference matches at home. That should really help us down the stretch athletically, and even more so academically. Being home toward the end of the year is always a big advantage."
The home schedule kicks off with a bang as the North Dakota State Bison come calling on Sept. 6. This in-state rivalry annually draws large crowds with the three Division I meetings at the Betty averaging nearly 2,500 fans. UND is 5-1 against NDSU in the D1 era, including a 3-0 win last season in Fargo, N.D.
"Our first home match will be against the Bison, during Potato Bowl week, so I have a feeling that we might have an okay crowd for that one at the Betty," said Pryor. "That match is always a great event for the volleyball community in the entire state, regardless of whether you support UND's Kelly Green or that other shade of green that resides a little south of us. This is also the last time that we will play them in a non-conference setting. We are looking forward to playing them home and away once we enter The Summit League in 2018. That's just a win-win for the state."
Following that blockbuster opener, the Fighting Hawks will host the annual UND Classic, which will see three matches that weekend (Sept. 8-9). It starts with Friday matches against George Washington and Appalachian State before a Saturday morning finale against another Summit League opponent, South Dakota State.
The Big Sky Conference home slate opens Sept. 28 against Idaho, a team that has given UND fits despite North Dakota's 7-1 record against them the past three seasons. Four of those matches have gone the distance with the clubs meeting in the Big Sky Tournament in each of the past two seasons. Travel partner Eastern Washington will play an 11:00 a.m. match on that Saturday, starting a new trend to weekend match times.
"We are moving almost all of our matches on Saturday to 11:00 a.m., and that is going to be a great thing for UND fans," Pryor explained. "With us having an earlier start, UND fans can come out and support us, and then head over to football, soccer, or hockey afterwards. I know that our players and staff want to be able to support other programs, so that way, once we are done, our players will be right next to the fans supporting other teams that are representing the University of North Dakota."
That final push with six of the final eight regular season matches at home begins Oct. 19 against Idaho State, another perennial league power. That four-match homestand continues with Weber State (Oct. 21), Montana (Oct. 26) and Montana State (Oct. 28, lone Saturday evening match).
The home schedule concludes with a pair of huge matches that might again determine the site of the 2017 Big Sky Conference Tournament. Last year, UND defeated Northern Arizona on the road then finished with a win over Northern Colorado to earn the top spot in the standings, the school's second regular season title and the first chance to host the eight-team league tournament. UND would sweep all three matches en route to a 13-3 home mark and its premiere in the NCAA Division I Tournament.
Last season, UND led the Big Sky in total (17,433) and average attendance (1,090). North Dakota finished 42nd in all of NCAA Division I in attendance last season and has paced the conference in attendance each season since 2013.
Three of UND's four All-Big Sky Conference First Teamers return for 2017 with seniors Sydney Griffin (Big Sky Player of the Year), Tamara Merseli (Big Sky Newcomer of the Year) and Faith Dooley (three-time All-Big Sky honoree) back in the fold. They helped lead North Dakota to a 26-10 record a year ago, including wins in 17 of its final 19 matches.
Season tickets are on sale now for the 2017 season. Season tickets are just $50 for the general public and $45 for UND faculty and staff. Pledge your loyalty to North Dakota volleyball today by purchasing your 2017 season tickets in person at the Ralph Engelstad Arena Box Office or online by clicking here.
The full 2017 schedule will be released in the coming weeks. Check back to UNDsports.com for dates and times.