No. 2 Duluth too consistent for MSU

The No. 2-ranked Minnesota Duluth volleyball team displayed superior precision in picking apart Minot State University on Friday at the MSU Dome.

The Bulldogs committed just six attack errors in the match and pulled away late in each set for a 25-19, 25-16, 25-12 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference victory.

MSU (7-10 overall, 3-5 NSIC) found success early by mixing up their offense. Sophomore middle hitter Tarah Dabovich recorded five kills in the opening set by sliding to the outside and finding space.

Duluth (16-1, 7-1) didn’t take its first lead until 16-15 but ran away with game one. All-American outside hitter Kate Lange accounted for four consecutive points – two kills, two aces – to swing the momentum and give the Bulldogs a lead they never relinquished.

The Beavers struggled with Lange’s pace all night. The 6-foot-1 senior repeatedly blasted balls off blocks and caught back-row defenders a step slow. Lange finished with a match-high 19 kills and no attack errors for a .543 hitting percentage.

“She’s a special player and certainly there’s times when she can take the team on her shoulders and carry us,” Duluth coach Jim Boos said. “When we’re not in system, to give her the ball 1-on-1, 1-on-2, she still can score a lot of times and that’s a real big weapon. Even when she doesn’t score, she does hit with such good pace that she puts the other side in a tough position because they don’t dig it right back to their setter.”

Set two was tied at 9-9 before an eight-point run from Duluth gave the Bulldogs control. The third set was tied at 7-7 before Duluth won 18 of the final 23 points.

“We played halfway through each set and then we kind of downed ourselves a little bit,” MSU junior outside hitter Jen Dixon said. “If we would’ve continued to play at the level that we continued to start off the game, it would’ve been a much closer game.”

MSU coach Travis Ward said his team’s passing fell apart late in each set. The Beavers failed to sustain any offense and finished with 24 errors and a .068 hitting percentage. Duluth hit .424.

“We got hit with 30 balls it seemed like, and we didn’t put balls back in play,” Ward said. “We had some fantastic digs and some great rallies and then would waffle one out of bounds in the middle of a great rally. That’s what makes (Duluth) such a good team is they are consistent enough to put play after play after play together and not make the errors.”

Freshman Lauren Dunkle and sophomore Mallory Sall led MSU with eight kills apiece. Dixon and Dabovich – who took just four swings after her productive first set – added six each.

The Beavers host St. Cloud State (11-5, 5-3) at 7 p.m. tonight.

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