No. 7 SMSU too much for MSU volleyball

The excitement of a five-set win over Sioux Falls on Friday was short-lived for the Minot State University volleyball team.

The Beavers found out Saturday why Southwest Minnesota State is ranked No. 7 in the country. The Mustangs overcame a resilient MSU in the first set and cruised through the next two for a 3-0 sweep (25-23, 25-16, 25-17) in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match at the MSU Dome.

“I just think that (SMSU) executed better,” MSU coach Travis Ward said. “We didn’t pass very well tonight, as a whole. We really got a little bit lucky to get back in that first set, to be honest with you.”

The Mustangs (12-3, 7-0) started quick, building a 10-4 lead and establishing an attack on the right side with sophomore outside hitter Abbey Thissen. MSU struggled to deter the SMSU hitters with a lack of a consistent blocking presence and Thissen, who finished with a match-high 13 kills, had three kills in the early run.

The Beavers struck back and forced a timeout from the visitors following consecutive kills from sophomore Tarah Dabovich to make the score 10-7. Dabovich registered just two more kills the remainder of the match, but MSU finished the opening set strong.

The deficit went back to eight before more Beavers got involved in the offense and an SMSU error cut their lead to 24-23. The Mustangs took the set on the next point.

“They had a couple stretches in that where they gave us some points and this game’s about errors,” SMSU coach Terry Culhane said, “but I thought they made us earn it and battle more.”

Culhane saw the turning point when sophomore outside hitter Whitney Burmeister came out swinging to start the second set. Burmeister had three kills and an ace as SMSU built a 12-4 lead. The Mustangs worked with spurts of consecutive kills from Thissen, Burmeister or sophomore Claire Sames. The latter finished with 11 kills and Burmeister had nine.

The confidence built in the first set almost immediately dissipated for the Beavers.

“We just gained that we can play with this team,” Ward said. “If we play as (poor) as we played it doesn’t (matter), we’re not gonna beat anybody. We’re young and we’re gonna be a little bit inconsistent and we just had too many inconsistent balls.”

Passing proved a problem for MSU. Junior setter Emily Byrne finished with a team-high 15 assists and freshman Brooke French added 11, but the Beavers didn’t come close to mirroring the efficiency of the Mustangs. SMSU sophomore setter Emilee Gutzmer had 37 of her team’s 40 assists.

“Not not giving them credit, but we made a lot of errors and we lost tonight,” MSU junior Jen Dixon said. “We didn’t play the way we could. Absolutely, we know that we can play way better than this. We know we can play with that team.”

Dixon led MSU with nine kills followed by sophomore Mallory Sall’s eight. Dixon also led the team with 12 digs. SMSU senior libero Rachel Westby recorded a match-high 17 digs and Burmeister added 12.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Beavers (7-9 overall, 3-4 NSIC) as their next opponent is No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth. MSU hosts the Bulldogs (15-1, 6-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.