Beavers win five-setter in NSIC opener

Jen Dixon played all six rotations effectively Thursday night, almost as if she was making up for lost time.

Minot State University’s standout outside hitter missed all of last season with a fractured foot, but was dominant in the Beavers’ conference and home opener Thursday. Dixon racked up match highs of 19 kills and four aces and added 20 digs as MSU topped Minnesota State University-Moorhead in five sets (25-19, 25-15, 23-25, 24-26, 16-14) at the MSU Dome.

“I love playing defense, I love playing offense and I definitely love being out there the whole time,” Dixon said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, especially coming off my injury.”

The victory pushed MSU’s record to 5-5, one win shy of last season’s total.

In the deciding game Dixon responded from her own hitting error with a kill to put the Beavers up 14-13. Moorhead junior Annie Palmquist answered with a kill, but an MSU block and a Dragons attacking error sealed the win for the Beavers.

There was plenty of offense to go around for the Beavers, who also saw freshman Lauren Dunkle and sophomore Mallory Sall get 16 kills apiece. Junior setter Emily Byrne totaled 55 assists.

“I thought they played really good defense and they had really good ball control,” Moorhead coach Tammy Blake said. “They’re a good team.”

MSU appeared poised to sweep the Dragons, who beat the Beavers 3-0 last season. MSU dictated play early and easily took the first two sets, but squandered a 23-19 lead in the third. Moorhead (7-2) rattled off six unanswered points – aided by two MSU errors – to extend the match.

Moorhead won a tight fourth set, but Dixon said the Beavers’ belief never wavered.

“It’s always anybody’s game and we have to stay in it the whole time,” she said. “We’ve been in this situation before during (nonconference) season. We’ve been up two sets and gone to five. It’s a whole momentum thing. We stayed focused, we stayed calm and we just did our jobs.”

MSU coach Travis Ward was impressed with the play of Dunkle and freshman libero Alexis Boutin, who both played the majority of their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match. Dunkle had 13 digs and 2.5 blocks to go along with her 16 kills and Boutin posted a match-high 22 digs.

Ward talked about how much different it is to have depth and options compared to last season’s young, injury-depleted squad.

“We’ve just gotten better,” Ward said. “I can’t say enough about Lauren and Alexis and what they’re doing to kind of put the pieces together for us. Obviously, getting Jen back is huge for us.”

The Beavers showcased an improved defense, tallying 14 team blocks and scrambling for dozens of digs in the back row to extend points.

“We have a really good team connection,” Dunkle said. “We all flowed really well together.”

MSU hosts the University of Mary at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter

@DAllar_MDN.