Fighting Hawks split matches at opening day of USF Classic

TAMPA, Fla. (UND Athletics) – The University of North Dakota volleyball team split a pair of matches on Friday at the USF Classic in Tampa. UND fell, 3-0, in the opener to the host Bulls but rallied to defeat Charlotte, 3-2, to close out the opening day of festivities.

“Today it is still evident that we are a work in progress,” said Head Coach Mark Pryor. “At times we looked pretty good, other times we didn’t. We made a step this afternoon, but we need to take another tomorrow.”

UND 3, Charlotte 2
UND (7-7) rallied in its victory over Charlotte, claiming the fourth set when trailing the match 2-1 as well as fighting off match point in the fifth to capture a 17-15 triumph in the tiebreaker. The win is the second in three tries this season when a match goes the distance and marks the third time in a span of seven days the Fighting Hawks have seen a contest go to five.

“The second match was a battle, and really, we need more of those,” said Pryor. “Those matches like this one will help shape us, and while I am really pleased with the outcome, I am even more grateful that we had a chance to experience that.”

Multiple bests were set in the triumph on Friday over the 49ers including Taliyah Flores recording a team-high 36 digs. The mark is the most by a UND player since McKenzie Hart had 50 against Southern Utah in 2015.

Roosa Rautio just missed a career-high in assists, dishing out 51 helpers in the win. The freshman has now recorded at least 50 assists in two of the last three matches.

Brynn Nieukirk was dynamic on the offensive side of the ball, tying for a team-high 15 kills which is a new personal best. The freshman posted those 15 kills on 51 swings to hit .216 for the contest.

Kayla Williams might want to change her nickname to “The Double-Double Machine” as the junior transfer tallied her 10th of the season. The Staten Island native finished with 15 kills and 14 digs while adding a block.

Alivia Fraase finished second on the team with 21 digs and chipped in a pair of assists while Jordan Vail reached double digits in kills with 13 as well as six rejections.

Tamika Brekke collected three of the team’s six service aces to go along with seven digs and an assist. Ashley Brueggeman was the final player in double figures for kills with 12.

UND controlled a majority of the first set, building a lead as high as 10 thanks to a 10-3 late in the frame to build a 23-13 lead. Charlotte charged back with three consecutive points, but a Lydia Rutten kill and a 49ers attack error sealed a 25-16 win and a 1-0 match lead.

Charlotte claimed back-to-back set victories to open up a 2-1 match lead and put pressure on UND, but how the Fighting Hawks responded really impressed Pryor.

“I saw today the first glimpse of true resilience in this team all season,” echoed Pryor. “Against Charlotte, they had match point against us. We looked relatively calm during that moment and were able to side out and tie it up at 14. It was definitely a positive step forward.”

In the fourth set, UND jumped out to an early 7-2 lead but the 49ers began to chip away before eventually taking a 13-12 lead at the midway point of the stanza. The Hawks answered with seven of the next eight points, capped off by a Brekke service ace, to force a Charlotte timeout and take a 19-14 lead.

After the 49ers tied the match at 22, a pair of Brueggeman kills sandwiched between a Rutten smash gave UND a 25-22 victory and sent the match into the fifth.

The tiebreaking set was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams taking leads throughout. Eventually, the 49ers looked to be in control with a 14-13 advantage and match point. UND answered with a sideout before the teams traded points again to level the score at 15. From there, Brueggeman slammed down a kill to give the Hawks a 16-15 lead and the junior teamed up with Rutten for a block to cement the victory.

USF 3, UND 0
In Friday’s opener, the Fighting Hawks competed in every set, but fell just short in a 3-0 defeat by the host Bulls.

USF outhit the Hawks, .293 to .206, despite the visitors only recording 13 attack errors for the match.

In the first match, we had multiple issues, but none of them at the same time,” said Pryor. “We just couldn’t ever get in a rhythm, and that was pretty frustrating.”

Williams led the way offensively again, recording 11 kills and adding 13 digs for what would be her first of two double-doubles of the day.

Nieukirk was also strong for the Hawks, reaching double figures in kills with 10 kills and hitting .226 in the loss.

Flores led the visitors with 18 digs while Rautio added 29 assists and a trio of service errors.

North Dakota returns to action tomorrow morning against New Orleans at 9 a.m. to close out the USF Classic.