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UMD’s wildest sports weekend ever came to a spectacular conclusion Sunday when the volleyball team astounded everyone who understood the significance by winning the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference playoff title with a 3-game sweep over Concordia University of St. Paul, followed in the next couple of hours and five miles away by the men’s hockey team shocking No. 1 rated Minnesota 6-2. Back home in Duluth, while the Bulldogs won a glorious Super Region 3 NCAA Division II playoff blowout over Emporia State, the women’s hockey and soccer teams split games of different proportions.
The soccer team, which was unranked all season but won its way into becoming the regional tournament host, beat Southwest Minnesota State 2-0 to reach the region final, where the Bulldogs battled but dropped a tough 2-1 game to heavily favored Grand Valley State. The women’s hockey team was pretty good in getting Kayla Black a 3-0 shutout Friday night at AMSOIL Arena, but Bemidji State bounced back for a shocker of its own in a 1-0 reversal Saturday night.
UMD’s men led 1-0 before Minnesota caught fire and administered a 6-1 rout Friday night at Mariucci Arena. That created a pretty cocky group of media folks, both on television and in the newspapers, and they had to wait until Sunday for the rematch, which was a remarkable turnabout with the Bulldogs jumping on the Gophers for a 3-0 lead in the first period, making it 5-1 in the second, and 6-1 in the third before settling for a 6-2 victory over the once-beaten Gophers. Justin Crandall got two goals, and Matt McNeely made 36 saves as the Bulldogs used the wide ice at Mariucci for a dizzying display of slick passes to gain revenge.
By contrast, the UMD women got a lot of shots at Bemidji State goaltender Brittni Mowat, and got a goal in each period for a 3-0 victory as Black got her shutout. In Saturday’s rematch, however, the Bulldogs fired 38 shots at Mowat, but she stopped them all, and with Black making 16 saves at the other end it appeared the two teams would be headed for overtime. We envisioned a shootout that might last until midnight to break the scoreless battle.
Despite the barrage of shots, however, the disturbing thing about UMD’s women was an apparent failure to understand the hockey axiom that a pass leads to a scoring chance, and a great pass creates a great scoring chance. The UMD women passed as little as the UMD men passed often. But, at 0-0, it might not matter.
In the final minute, however, the Beavers had a power play, and with the final seconds ticking down, left winger Ivana Bilic broke deep on the left, cut around the defense and broke to the net. Black dropped to her knees, and Bilic shot up high, leading to several minutes of confusion. It appeared the shot might have gone in and out, but play continued, and the final 15 seconds ticked down to the buzzer before the officials could review the play. Sure enough, Bilic’s shot was brilliant, zipping up over Black’s shoulder and striking the water bottle, tied to the outside of the top of the net. The water bottle popped up as the puck bounced down and then quickly back out.
When the video was examined, it was obvious the puck had to be in to hit the water bottle, so the last 15 seconds was replayed, and Bemidji State had a hard-earned 1-0 victory and boarded the bus home with a WCHA split. The UMD women found the way to score in an 8-0 victory over the Russian National team on Tuesday, but they will need their best effort of the season when Wisconsin comes to AMSOIL for Friday-Saturday games.
UMD had lost 3-0 during the season to Southwest Minnesota State, but the Bulldogs finished on a surge, and battled for the upper hand on the frigid Malosky Stadium turf Friday afternoon. The Bulldogs controlled most of the play, but couldn’t break the scoreless tie until Maureen Stormont scored on a penalty kick in the second half. Going into the stiff wind in sub-freezing temperature, Stormont, a junior got a chance from deep on the left and sent a curling shot past goalkeeper Brienna Dehkes to clinch a 2-0 victory. The Bulldogs got only five shots in the game, with Stormont getting four of them, and both goals, which gives her 19 for the season.
There was one more assignment, and that was the powerful Grand Valley State powerhouse, which had only given up two goals all season. UMD fought, but Grand Valley gained leads of 1-0 and then 2-0 before Jennifer Smith got a goal for UMD. The Bulldogs fell in the region final 2-1 but finished 17-5-1, and could vault the soccer program to future prominence. Grand Valley moves on with an amazing 22-0-1 record.
It seemed impossible to consider an encore after UMD had beaten six-time defending NCAA champion Concordia 3-2 in the regular-season finale. Turns out, the Bulldogs were just hitting their stride.
Moving into the NSIC tournament, UMD romped past Sioux Falls 25-14, 25-10, 25-21 for a sweep. That sent the Bulldogs to Concordia in St. Paul for the semifinals and final. UMD kept rolling with a 3-0 sweep over Wayne State (25-18, 25-18, 25-23) to reach the final, a much-anticipated rematch with Concordia. The Bulldogs responded with perhaps their finest hour, winning 25-22, 25-21, 29-27 to leave the favored Golden Bears 29-3, with two of the three setbacks administered by UMD.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are 31-2, having lost only to Concordia early in the season, and to Northern State of Aberdeen in a Romano Gym loss that may have redoubled the Bulldogs’ resolve for the rest of the season. By closing out the tournament by winning 10 consecutive games, UMD was declared the host school for the volleyball regional next week.
It is a loaded, 8-team tournament, starting with Concordia facing Northern State -- the two teams that issued UMD a loss apiece -- and Central Missouri facing Nebraska-Kearney in the second afternoon game next week on Thursday. In the later bracket, Washburn of Topeka will play Southwest Missouri State, and, in the finale, UMD takes on Arkansas Tech. The semifinals will be at 5 and 7:30 on Friday, with the championship game and the region title up for grabs at 7 p.m. next Saturday.
“At the league semifinals and finals, Kate Lange was tremendous, as always,” said UMD coach Jim Boos. “But she got a lot of support. Monica Turner has been solid, but Sydnie Mauch came through with 12 kills on 19 swings against Wayne State and 15 on 23 swings against Concordia. Ashley Hinsch and Julie Rainey were both very good, and Mariah Scharf came up with so many big swings for us -- she scored four straight when we were down 18-17 in one game. We’ve been playing well for the last four or five weeks, and our team chemistry is so important.”