GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- University of North Dakota head volleyball coach Mark Pryor has announced a 32-match schedule for his first season on the UND sidelines. It's a slate that includes battles against teams from the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Big Ten, American Athletic Conference, Atlantic 10 as well as a grueling 16-match Big Sky Conference slate.
“One of the things that I wanted to make sure that we were doing was trying to play as many back to back days as possible,” Pryor said. “We need to replicate what the conference tournament is going to be like. The team has to learn to be prepared to produce results the day following a match. We actually have two times this season where we play on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. That replicates the conference tournament, and we created that by choice. It is important for the student-athletes to realize what the grind of three days straight is going to be. I realize that it will be hard on them physically, but we are hoping that the possibility of a short-term loss could end up preparing us for a long term gain at the end of the season.”
The season gets underway Aug. 29 when UND plays the first of four non-conference tournaments, starting with three matches at George Washington in Washington, D.C. There, North Dakota will open with Auburn, Arkansas State and the host Colonials.
Following a non-conference tilt at Drake Sept. 2, the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center will once again play host to the annual UND Classic Sept. 5-6. Tulane and South Dakota are the opponents in the three-team tournament.
Rivalries continue with a road match at North Dakota State Sept. 9 and a four-match tournament at South Dakota State Sept. 11-12. The Brookings, S.D. opponents include Florida International, Iowa and Eastern Illinois in addition to the Jackrabbits. The final tournament comes at Starkville, Miss. Sept. 18-20. UND opens against MSU and finished the non-conference slate with tilts against SIU-Edwardsville and Pacific.
“I am really looking forward to playing all of the Dakota schools within the span of one week,” said Pryor. “With two of those matches on the road in a hostile environment, that should really reveal how our team handles itself on the road, and it should prove to be a great opportunity to prep us for some tough crowds on the road in the Big Sky.”
The 16-match Big Sky Conference schedule begins Sept. 25 with Eastern Washington coming to the Betty. With Idaho joining the conference in 2014, the Big Sky has moved to a divisional format for scheduling. UND will play in the North Division along with Montana, Montana State, Northern Colorado, Idaho and Eastern Washington. Those schools will play each other twice in the format while playing the six Southern Division schools once apiece.
The Big Sky has also reformatted the league's postseason tournament, sending eight teams to the regular season champion and No. 1 seed. The three-day, single-elimination tournament-- without byes-- begins Nov. 20.
North Dakota, the Big Sky Conference regular season co-champion a year ago (22-11, 17-3 Big Sky),graduated three players, including All-Big Sky honorees Ronni Munkeby (first team) and Lisa Parlich (second team) along with setter Ellen Krueger. UND returns starters Anna Pioske (Big Sky co-Freshman of the Year), libero Lauren Clarke (1,049 career digs), seniors Lexi Robinson (755 career kills) and setter Nikki Husfeldt (3,990 career assists, 3rd all-time at UND, All-Big Sky Second Team).
“Early on, it is going to be vitally important for our returning outside hitters to be able to produce kills for us, as our middles get acclimated to the offense and our philosophy,” Pryor said. “The program has been extremely middle-driven the last few years, and our goal is to make sure that all of our offensive options are able to produce when called upon. We will still run the middle a lot, but we want to put those players in a position to be successful. Early on, we are going to be depending on our returning setter, left sides, and our back row players to really make life easier for our middles who will be coming in and thrown right into the fire. It will take a collaborative effort to get the offense flowing the way we want it.”
UND will honor last season's conference title with a championship ceremony prior to Friday, Sept. 5th's home match against South Dakota (7pm). Single-game tickets go on sale August 1. Season tickets for UND volleyball are on-sale now for only $40 and, as always, Champions Club members receive free admission to UND volleyball. For more ticket information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Schedule (by the numbers):
*16 Big Sky matches
*16 non-conference matches
*12 home matches (at Betty Engelstad Sioux Center)
*4 matches against Dakota schools (2- South Dakota, 1- South Dakota State and North Dakota State).
*3 matches against teams from "Power 5" conferences (SEC- Auburn, Mississippi State; Big Ten- Iowa)
*1 match apiece against Portland State (co-reg. season champ) and Idaho State (Big Sky tourney champ)