With a sweep over the top-ranked Utah Valley Wolverines, the University of North Dakota captured its third straight Great West Conference Volleyball Tournament title. The Fighting Sioux defeated UVU 25-14, 25-22, and 25-21.
"Our players did a great job tonight," head coach Ashley Hardee said. "We came out knowing that we were prepared for Utah Valley. We were prepared for them the first two times we played them, but this time we made a few adjustments in certain areas.
"The tournament championship is a big deal. It is a big deal to me knowing that as we move forward, these tournament titles will give us an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. From the moment I took this position, I have emphasized to our team the importance of winning these tournaments and they understand the importance of winning the final matches of the season."
The Fighting Sioux opened the initial set with three straight points and then quickly put up a 5-1 advantage. Following a point trade, they then headed out on a 4-1 clip to take an 11-3 lead. After going back-and-forth through the midway point, UND used a burst of short runs to move out to a 10-point advantage (21-11). Down the stretch, the Sioux outscored the Wolverines 4-3 to record the 25-14 win.
In a set quite different from the first, the second frame found UND and UVU tied on 10 occasions. UND broke the 6-6 knot with a 5-0 run, but the Wolverines pounced with a 9-0 run of their own to take the lead (15-11) for the first time of the night. The Sioux battled their way to an 18-18 tie, but UVU continued to hold them off. After an attack error on UVU broke the final tie of the set (22-22) and gave UND the advantage, senior outside hitter Devin Trefz (Bagley, Minn.) dropped in her fourth kill of the frame and freshman Dani McNallan (DS, Andover, Minn.) stepped in with her first and only ace of the match to give the Sioux the 25-22 win and the 2-0 lead.
"Winning that second set was huge," Hardee said. "Before the match we talked about needing to keep our composure and that's exactly what they did. The players all stayed calm during the timeouts and just kept attacking and getting after them."
In the third, and what would turn out to be the final set, the top two teams in the Great West Conference kept a very tight frame. North Dakota opened up with the advantage, and then played it out to a 19-13 lead. Trying to get back into the game, the Wolverines traded points with the Sioux and then used a 5-0 run to cut the UND lead down to one (21-20). With the championship on the line, the Sioux took advantage of three Wolverine errors to take the set (25-21), the match (3-0), and the 2011 Great West Conference Volleyball Tournament title.
"We had to win that third set," Hardee said. "They are too good of a team to give up a set against. They are capable of going on runs just like we are, so we had to make certain that we were resilient."
Tournament MVP and member of the all-tournament team, senior outside hitter Annika Smed (Albert Lea, Minn.) finished with 14 kills and 11 digs to register her 13th double-double of the season and her second of the tournament. She led all players in the opening set with seven kills.
"Annika was fantastic as always, and she could be our MVP every day," Hardee said. "She does some great things for us, including things that don't show up on the stats sheet."
Also named to the all-tournament team, sophomore setter Ellen Krueger (Lakeville, Minn.) tallied nine kills on 15 swings to finish with a team-best .467 hitting percentage. Krueger and redshirt freshman setter Nikki Husfeldt (Andover, Minn.) combined for 45 assists, 18 more than UVU's team combined (27).
"Hats off to these players, especially Ellen," Hardee said. "It has been an interesting year for her, but she has never stopped working hard. She's a fantastic athlete and tonight she came out and played one of the best matches of her career.
"We made the decision to use two setters tonight because we thought that we needed not so much more defense, but a little bit more offense to beat Utah Valley. We felt that we needed an extra attacker and it definitely worked in our favor."
Along with Smed's 11 digs, sophomore libero Erica Turner (Andover, Minn.) finished with a team-high 23 digs and senior defensive specialist Taylor Bohannon (Inver Grove Heights, Minn.) added another 10. With 64 total digs, the Sioux nearly doubled UVU's defensive effort which produced just 38 digs.
Also helping with the defensive effort, Trefz finished with four blocks (two solo) and senior middle blocker Tia Russell (Brooklyn Park, Minn.) tallied four block assists.
The Wolverines were led by Chelsey Heaps' 11 kills and Brookelyn Campbell's 24 assists. Jaicee Kuresa and Sarah Clement finished with seven blocks apiece.
The Sioux out-hit UVU .238-.084, including a big .409-.093 advantage in the opening set.