Fifth-year head coach Mark Pryor has paved new avenues for the UND volleyball team, winning a pair of Big Sky Conference titles and with them, back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division I Tournament. Those national tourney berths were the firsts of their kind in program history, but as Pryor leads UND into The Summit League in 2018-19, he aims to make that an annual destination.
Among the many other program firsts under Pryor include: a pair of Division I All-Americans (Sydney Griffin- 2016 and Faith Dooley- 2017, both honorable mention), the Big Sky Libero of the Year (McKenzie Hart -2014 and 2015), Big Sky Player of the Year (Griffin- 2016), the NCAA digs leader (Hart- 2015), NCAA blocks leader (Dooley- 2017), most wins in back-to-back years (55), best four-year record (103-40) and fewest sets lost at home in a season (5).
The 2017 team will long be remembered as one of the best on record at this campus, etching a program-best 30 wins, winning the Big Sky Tournament on the road at top-seed Sacramento State. Along with it came a host of school records to include a 20-match home winning streak in which UND won a ridiculous 39 straight sets at the Betty (spanning 2016 and 2017). A record number of fans turned out, too, to see the Fighting Hawks' domination as just under 1,400 per match filed into the Betty in 2017, including the first-ever volleyball sellout (3,140) against North Dakota State on Sep. 6.
North Dakota was a mainstay in the Mid-Major poll throughout the season after jumping out to a 9-1 start through the first two weeks of play and pacing the NCAA in wins for most of the year thereafter. Nationally, UND found itself among the NCAA's best, finishing second in total digs (2,530), third in total attacks (5,239), fourth in total blocks (372.5), fifth in total kills (1,851) and sixth in assists (1,739) in all of NCAA Division I.
The team accounted for three more First Team All-Big Sky Conference members (Dooley, Griffin, Jordan Vail), giving UND seven in a two-year span (five different players).
His 2016 squad was a history-making team that won 19 of its last 22 matches, including an incredible 11-match winning streak that ended the regular season and swept right through the Big Sky Conference Tournament. All told, UND dropped just three sets combined in that run, ending Northern Arizona's 25-match home winning streak, the second-longest active streak in all of NCAA, en route to the regular season league title. UND would win it outright two days later with a sweep of Northern Colorado on the regular season's finale and grabbed the top seed in the league tournament. Once there, North Dakota continued its dominance with three convincing sweeps for the school's first league tournament title and subsequent berth in the NCAA Division I Tournament.
The year was filled with accolades as Pryor was the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, his third different coach of the year honor in his career. This past season, he mentored the league's player of the year (setter Sydney Griffin), part of four first team all-league honorees (Chelsea Moser, Faith Dooley, Tamara Merseli)-- the first time a school has laid claim to four first teamers. Griffin also picked up the school's first All-America honorable mention at the D-I level, earning accolades from Volleyball Magazine. Merseli was also dubbed the league's newcomer of the year.
Those four would also earn Big Sky Conference All-Tournament team plaudits with Dooley snatching Most Valuable Player. That quartet helped lead UND to a tournament-record .448 hitting percentage in a win over Idaho State in the semifinals en route to an impressive .308 combined hitting percentage for the whole tourney (third-best in league tournament history).
McKenzie Hart led all of NCAA Division I in digs per set in 2015, the second time in his coaching career that he’s mentored a player that has led the nation in that category. He is the only coach in the NCAA to have a player lead the NCAA in digs per set for an entire season at both the NCAA Division II and Division I level. Hart would be named the Libero of the Year for a second straight season by the Big Sky Conference and was an AVCA All-Region performer as a senior.
Pryor’s 2015 squad etched the program’s highest-ranked victory in its Division I history with a win over Dayton, who finished the season ranked No. 22 in the RPI.
His program has led the Big Sky in total digs in each of the last three seasons and has a perfect record of 13-0 in November regular season matches in his UND tenure. His teams have a knack for out-lasting opponents, notching a 12-5 record in five-set matches.
The incoming class of 2015 freshmen earned praise nationally with high honorable mention status by prepvolleyball.com. His 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes at Baylor, where he spent the previous four years as the associate head coach, were both ranked in the top 20 nationally.
Overall at UND, Pryor has a 103-40 record in his four seasons at UND. His 2014 and 2016 squads each tied the school record for wins (26) until the 2017 demolished it with a 30-win season. His first team claimed the Big Sky Conference North Division and also earned the school’s first win at the league’s postseason tournament. The 2016 edition saw the school's first tournament hosting duties, a conference postseason title and an NCAA Tournament berth, all program firsts.
Accolades were plentiful for his inaugural team as four players were lauded by the league. Seniors Nikki Husfeldt and Lexi Robinson were each honored on the All-Big Sky First Team while Faith Dooley was dubbed the Freshman of the Year and a second teamer with junior McKenzie Hart grabbing the Libero of the Year.
Pryor was introduced as the 12th head volleyball coach in program history on Jan. 28, 2014. The 15-year collegiate coaching veteran arrived in Grand Forks following a four-year stint as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Baylor.
Pryor returned to coaching following a brief stint away from the profession in 2008 to lead the NCAA Division II program at Texas A&M-Commerce. As the head coach in Commerce, he led the Lions to back-to-back winning seasons, including a 25-10 mark in his last season. Pryor was named the Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year for his efforts during the 2009 season and tutored the conference’s offensive player of the year.
Pryor’s previous Division I head coaching stint was as the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe in 2005 when he guided the Warhawks to a 15-15 record. Prior to his arrival, the program had averaged just four overall wins and one Southland Conference win for the past 10 seasons. For his efforts, he was named the 2005 Southland Coach of the Year.
Pryor’s first collegiate coaching job was also with the Warhawks as an assistant coach during the 1997 season. He obtained his master’s degree in public relations/communication from ULM while serving on staff there.
In the seven seasons between his stops in Monroe, Pryor served in a variety of roles that included head coaching jobs at North Central Texas College (1998; NJCAA) and Southwest Baptist University (2001-02, NCAA DII) and assistant coaching positions at New Mexico State (1999), USA Volleyball (2001) and Boise State (2003-04).
Pryor has a bachelor’s degrees in speech communication and journalism from Baylor. He and wife, Amanda, have two sons, Miles and Mason.
|2016||North Dakota||26-10||*Big Sky Coach of the Year|
|2009||Texas A&M Commerce||25-10||*Lone Star Coach of the Year|
|2008||Texas A&M Commerce||15-12|
|2005||Louisiana-Monroe||15-16||*Southland Coach of the Year|