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When it became obvious that the UMD volleyball team would fall short of its objective to repeat as league champion in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, the Bulldogs faced some struggles getting their act together. Coach Jim Boos pushed, prodded, lectured, and encouraged, and the players themselves found the combination for the proper chemistry.
It’s always important to be playing your best at the end of the season, and the Bulldogs certainly are doing that, as they battle their way in an attempt to wade through the stifling competition in the NSIC tournament. To qualify for the NCAA Division II regional, a team must rank among the top eight in its region, or win its league tournament.
Going into last weekend, Concordia was ranked No. 1 in the nation, as well as the region and the NSIC. Southwest Minnesota State was second in the league, Northern State of Aberdeen was third, and Wayne State of Nebraska fourth. UMD was locked into fifth, pretty much. As for the region, the top four in the NSIC were the top four in the region, as well, followed by four teams from the Mid-America Conference, and then, finally, came UMD at 9th.
UMD finished NSIC play at home last weekend, and after beating Minnesota State-Moorhead Friday, they faced the nation’s No. 3 team in Northern State. It was an exhaustive, unyielding match last Saturday afternoon at Romano Gym. UMD jumped ahead 6-1 in the opening game, but Northern State came back resolutely to catch up at 16-all, then the two swapped the lead until Taylor Wissbroecker’s two kills regained the lead for UMD at 23-21. But Northern came back again, gaining a 24-23 edge before Mariah Scharf tied it for the Bulldogs. But Northern got the next point, and when Kelly Madison’s diving attempt to save a ball headed out of bounds fell an inch short, Northern had won 26-24.
UMD stormed back in the second set, again taking a 6-1 lead, and this time fighting off Northern’s determined rally. The set was 19-19 before UMD prevailed 25-22. UMD seemed to take firmer command in the third set, after again going up early, then spurting from a 14-11 lead to 20-14 on the way to a 25-15 victory. A victory in the fourth set would give the match to the Bulldogs, but this time it was Northern State that battled back to a 19-all deadlock, and Northern evened the match with a 25-20 decision.
That left it all up to the fifth set, which would only go to 15. For the fifth straight time, UMD took the early lead, with Scharf scoring the first two points, and broke a 4-4 tie with a change-up, then ran off the back of the court to save a point, and then scoring with a second-row kill, as UMD led 8-4 and the teams changed ends. At that point, setter supreme Ashley Hinsch celebrated senior night in style. She got in the way of a Northern kill shot that was hit with such force it literally knocked her down. Hinsch landed on her rear end as the ball bounced over to the left side, and, incredibly, was knocked back her way. Still sitting in something like a Northern Minnesota yoga pose, Hinsch almost casually reached up and whacked the ball over the net. Moments later, Wissbroecker blasted a kill from the left side, and UMD led 9-4.
That point might have been the breaking point – not so much in diminishing Northern’s pressure, but in lifting the Bulldogs even higher, and they went on to win 15-8 when Sydnie Mauch hammered the final point from the right side.
The victory was UMD’s sixth in a row, although the Bulldogs didn’t know that Wayne State had lost. They already know they would be heading for Wayne State for a Wednesday night first-round match. The four winners will reconvene at the highest remaining seed – undoubtedly Concordia in St. Paul – for semifinals and the final. The tournament winner gains automatic entry to the regional.
This week, however, UMD got the good news: The winning streak and the triumph over No. 3 Northern boosted UMD from No. 9 to No. 7 in the region, while Wayne State tumbled from No. 4 to No. 8. If the Bulldogs could win at Wayne State, a shot at the league semis and final could still lead this team to a berth in the regional.
Scharf, named first team all-NSIC, had 30 kills against Northern, and hit an incredible .472 percent. “She had 30 kills against Tampa early in the season,” said Boos, and she hit over .500 against Minot and Mary. And Ashley made that incredible play that was the point that almost clinched the fifth game, putting us up five instead of three. It gave us a great energy boost.”
If you were a UMD hockey fan and went to AMSOIL Arena last Friday for the afternoon women’s game and the nighttime men’s game, it was an exercise in futility. There was nary a goal to be seen for the home team.
Wisconsin, the nation’s No. 1 team, was riding a remarkable streak. At 10-0, the Badgers had recorded nine consecutive shutouts. Their 3-0 victory Friday made that streak 10, and after an early flurry showed UMD with a 5-2 edge in shots, the Badgers came back to record 15 of the next 16 shots and gained a 1-0 lead. Jenny Ryan was the architect, assisting on all three goals, including a final masterpiece when she sent a hard pass from the right circle that Emily Clark deflected with her stick blade, up and into the left edge of the net.
Friday night, Denver did a similar job on UMD’s men – winning by 3-0 as Jarid Lukosevicius scored two of the goals. The Pioneers scored two of them in the last three minutes of the second period to put the game out of reach.
On Saturday, same schedule, different style points. Wisconsin led the UMD women 4-0, but UMD struck for two third-period goals, ending the Badger shutout streak at 31 consecutive periods.
The men fell behind 1-0 against Denver Saturday night, but Tony Cameranesi scored six minutes into the third period, and the game went into overtime. This season, the NCHC is trying a new plan. After a 5-minute overtime, a second 5-minute overtime is conducted, playing 3-on-3. In that setting, Cameranesi scored again, giving UMD a 2-1 victory in double overtime. By NCAA rules, the game stands as a 1-1 tie. In the NCHC, a game is worth three points, and once in overtime, the winner gets two and the losing team gets one. So UMD can declate a victory, the NCAA will call it even, but at least the Bulldogs have their first NCHC point.