GRAND FORKS, N.D.-- A battle between teams atop the Big Sky Conference standings did not disappoint Saturday as host North Dakota hung on for a 3-2 win (25-22, 25-23, 25-27, 23-25, 18-16) over second-place and defending regular season league champion Portland State at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. UND served with match point in the third set and had to fend off a rally by the Vikinigs that saw them post two set wins and three different match points in the fifth set for the visitors.
The tone was set early with 15 ties and six lead changes in the first frame alone as the match lived up to all its billing. PSU (9-9, 6-2) led 21-19, then a UND (13-7, 8-0 Big Sky) timeout sparked three straight North Dakota points to push the home team back in front. Neither team led by more than two points until the very end of the set. With the score 22-all, a miraculous one-handed dig helped UND stay in the rally and eventually won the point and energized a Homecoming crowd of 1,238 fans. A block-- one of a season-high 16 on the afternoon for UND-- followed to give UND set-point. Nikki Husfeldt finished off the set with a kill as UND took the first set, 25-22.
North Dakota had seven blocks in that first set alone, help leading to 10 total attack errors for the Vikings (.043 hit percentage).
UND used the momentum from that first set to run out to a 5-1 lead in the next frame. A key rally came when UND led 12-8, as several huge digs kept the home team alive and then back-to-back kills by Ronni Munkeby and Lexi Robinson made it 14-8. Facing a 19-14 deficit, Portland State ripped-off five straight points to tie the score. UND had the counter, quickly building a 24-20 lead before winning set two, 25-23.
In the third set, UND got out to another quick start, leading 7-2. The longest rally of the set was completed by Husfeldt on a dump play for a kill and a 10-5 North Dakota advantage. The junior setter finished the afternoon with her fifth double-double of the season with a season-high 59 assists and 13 digs.
Portland State rallied and took its first lead of the third set with a 20-19 edge. Lisa Parlich hammered home her 10th kill of the night to tie the score then later smoked another one in for a key sideout. Husfeldt won a block battle at the net and the score moved to 22-apiece in a gripping affair of Big Sky heavyweights.
UND had a match-point opportunity leading 24-23 with service but the Vikings went on a 4-1 run to end the set and extend the match.
The fourth set also went to the visitors to send it to a deciding fifth set. That fourth frame was tight throughout as well with 11 ties and three lead changes, the last coming after a 22-22 tie. Parlich recorded a kill to get it back even at 23-apiece but the Vikings stole the set at 25-23.
After being one point from being swept, Portland State seemed to be working on borrowed time and jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the final set trying to mount an unreal comeback. UND would have its mettle tested and passed with flying colors after six straight North Dakota points pushed UND in front, 11-9.
The pesky PSU team rallied yet again and served with match point on three different occasions. Munkeby got sideout kills on the first two match-point opportunities for the Vikings and then it was Parlich's turn to tie the score at 16-all in the epic battle. From there, Anna Pioske charted a kill to give UND its first opportunity at match point in this set and Parlich made sure it happened with her 18th kill of the match and an 18-16 UND victory to remain undefeated in conference play.
Parlich and Munkeby each finished the afternoon with 18 kills, part of four UND players with double-digit kill totals (L. Robinson- 11, Pioske- 10). Lauren Clarke had a season-high 35 digs while Husfeldt had an impressive outing with a season-high 59 assists and 13 digs to go along with six total blocks and four kills.
North Dakota, who now leads the league by two games with Northern Arizona and PSU each having two losses, heads to Southern Utah and NAU next Thursday and Saturday, respectively.