CEDAR CITY, Utah-- Host Southern Utah rallied from down two sets to none to outlast North Dakota (17-25, 27-29, 25-21, 25-21, 15-13) Saturday evening in the regular season finale. UND-- who was already locked-in to the fifth seed in the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament-- will now face fourth-seed and host Northern Colorado in the quarterfinal round on Friday.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't have the composure to win the match after being up 2-0 and holding a lead in the the fifth set," UND head coach Ashley Hardee said.
UND (15-16, 10-10 Big Sky) swept the Thunderbirds in rather easy fashion in the teams' earlier meeting in Grand Forks, N.D. and looked well on the way to potentially doing the same Saturday. Following a 25-17 win in the first set and a 29-27 victory in set two, North Dakota needed just a small run at the end of any of the final three sets but couldn't string one together as the hosts hung on.
That opening set was all UND from start to finish as the visitors raced out to a 6-1 lead quickly and never looked back. In the second set, the lead would switch hands three times. UND was primed to take the set in regulation, serving with a 24-23 edge. But, SUU (12-20, 8-12 Big Sky) got a sideout and another point for it first of three set-point opportunities. North Dakota fought each one off and polished-off the second set for a commanding two sets to none advantage.
Coming out of the break, SUU roared out to a 7-0 lead and led throughout the third set despite a late UND rally. North Dakota had closed the score to 19-18 until Analaine Mailoto registered three of her team-high 17 kills to eventually take the set, 25-21.
The fourth frame was close throughout but after garnering the edge at 5-4, SUU never relinquished the lead and hung on for another 25-21 set win to even the match.
SUU, already mathematically eliminated from the conference tourney based on tiebreakers, was playing for its two seniors in their final match. The pair were with the program in 2008 when SUU brought back volleyball as a varsity sport. When UND grabbed a 10-7 lead in the final set, the TBirds got back-to-back kills from Mailoto to force a North Dakota timeout. The score was knotted at 13-apiece before Cashaana Renfro recorded a kill and then was in on a block to complete the comeback.
UND was led by a 16-kill, 23-dig effort from sophomore Lexi Robinson. Junior Ronni Munkeby's 18 kills were a match-high while Lisa Parlich added a dozen for North Dakota. Nikki Husfeldt had 52 assists, 14 digs, five kills and five blocks.
The Big Sky Conference tournament begins Friday in Greeley, Colo. The first quarterfinal between the three seed and the six seed will begin at 10:00 a.m. with the UND/UNC match set for noon. The winners of those matches will play in the semifinal round later that night with the championship slated for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 24.