GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- Championship-caliber teams get hot at the right time of the season and make statement wins along the way. Consider Thursday a benchmark victory for a North Dakota team primed to earn a spot in its league postseason tournament in its first year of competition.
In front of a national television audience, UND swept second-place Portland State, 25-22, 25-21, 25-17 at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center Thursday night, giving the Vikings just their third league loss of the season. PSU (18-10, 14-3 Big Sky Conference) came into the night just a half-game out of first place in the conference standings while North Dakota trimmed its magic number to one to clinch a berth in the six-team tournament in two weeks.
UND (14-14, 9-8) had a balanced attack in the win. Junior Lisa Parlich tallied a match-high 10 kills while classmate Ronni Munkeby added eight kills. Freshman Lauren Clarke recorded 23 digs in the UND victory.
The home team came at PSU in all directions, winning the first set 25-22 with the kills spread out amongst six different players, none with more than two. UND outhit the Vikings .158-.044 in the opening frame, a theme throughout Thursday's win as the Green and White hit nearly 100 points better than its opponent for the match (.192 to .099).
Munkeby had five of her kills in the second set alone to help North Dakota gather a two-sets-to-none advantage and all of the momentum. It was her kill that gave UND a 17-14 lead to cap a 6-2 spurt that put the home team in front for good in that frame. Parlich and Ellen Krueger finished the set by teaming to block PSU's Jaklyn Wheeler, who entered the match second in the Big Sky in kills but mustered just six and hit -.138 Thursday.
North Dakota jumped out a fast 9-5 lead in the final set but PSU rallied to move in front, 12-11. From there, a Viking attack error followed by a Krueger kill, a UND block and a Munkeby service ace quickly put North Dakota back in the driver's seat and forced a PSU timeout. A pair of Parlich kills and a Dani McNallan service ace exhausted PSU's final timeout but it wouldn't be enough to quell the momentum. UND, leading 23-17, put the match on ice with back-to-back aces from Nikki Husfeldt.
North Dakota will look to earn its first weekend series sweep in conference play Saturday when it hosts Eastern Washington in the home finale. First serve is set for 7:00 p.m.