Defense and flashes of brilliance mark UND Volleyball five set win over Eastern Washington

(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-UND Athletics )

Tonight, in front of a decent crowd at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, we saw an incomplete picture of how good the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks’ Volleyball team can be this year in front of an electric 888 patrons. They put together a strong effort on defense in a five set (3-2) win against the Eagles of Eastern Washington that featured five players reaching double digit digs lead by McKenzie Damon with 20.

This now 8-5 team had some success up front as well. Lydia Rutten did a superb job of staying within the system of first year head coach Jeremiah Tiffin among others. She lead the offense and was the difference up front. On the night she notched 18 kills on 33 swings with a mere 3 errors, good for a .455 hitting percentage. In a sport where hitting above .300 is considered really good, it is fair to say she was great this night for the Fighting Hawks. She gave credit to the consistent play of her setters and defense in giving her a chance to be that efficient. Peyton Sewell finished the night with 42 assists, spearheading the bulk of distribution for UND on this night.

In addition to the exploits of Rutten, the sole senior on this squad, Ashley Brueggeman notched her 1000th career kill en route to 11 on the evening as part of a double double. Only 18 people in UND Volleyball history, including Ashley have accomplished this rare and momentous feat. On defense she chipped in 11 digs. She played the back row on multiple rotations and showcased the versatility fans in Grand Forks are used to seeing her utilize on a game-by-game basis.

As a team,these Fighting Hawks have not shown their best for a full game yet. They already have had some harrowing moments, including a five set win against Marist, where the Fighting Hawks had to rattle off three set wins in a row after losing the first two sets, including the second set by 18 points (25-7).

This team showed something tonight. When they start well, like they did in the second, fourth, and fifth sets, they get into their offense, and as Tiffin noted, can play more aggressively and afford to take an error when on the attack or a “good error”. When this team starts well, they can make games interesting in the Summit League. Now, they have one more tune up against a good team from the MAC, Akron.

The Zips are one of the bigger teams UND will see this season, and play a versatile game where their setters will join the attack as needed, presenting another wrinkle to account for tomorrow night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Come 7:30 PM tomorrow night, we will get the final picture of what this team looks like heading into a tough Summit League schedule the following week.

Sound stalemate

(Photo Credit: Russell Hons-UND Athletics)

Coming into today’s season opening soiree against the Grizzlies of the University of Montana, this University of North Dakota Soccer team has already developed its identity. A well composed team of fast forwards combined with some stout defense is what will propel this team to victory.

Today, against Montana, the Fighting Hawks got the sound defense, they even got some chances not reflected in the final box score, but they did not get the result they wanted. After 110 hard-fought minutes the Fighting Hawks played to a 0-0 tie with the Grizzlies. The score does not tell the entire tale of how things went. For example, once again forward Mimi Eiden had herself a wonderful day as did a talented forward and midfield corps.

Eiden was all over the forward part of the field speeding around the tall and physically imposing back line of the Grizzlies. She developed chemistry with multiple talented midfielders and blocked at least one shot today. She came inches away from scoring on a beautifully placed ball by freshman Bailey McNitt. Eiden was able to shake off Montana’s talented netminder, Claire Howard, and came within mere inches of giving UND a lead with 15 minutes left in the game. Despite that, she benefited from the strong midfield play of McNitt and others throughout the game.

If there was one thing the Fighting Hawks could build on, and this seems a minor idea, but Howard is quite deft at knowing when to jump off her line to stop attacks before they build. When coming up the field, Howard’s positioning helped stymie some UND chances before they could take a shot against her. As the year goes on, if UND can draw down chances for goalies to extinguish chances before they develop then that could add another tool to its powerful offensive arsenal.

As Head Coach Chris Logan said “We attack as a team and defend as a team.” Seeing everyone able to get back and help preserve the net-front to limit Montana’s chances provides some backdrop of hope going forward for this team. Since taking over, Chris Logan has morphed this program from one happy to be in games after parrying double digit shots aside to one able to take the offensive to the other team. Today’s game was fought against a big Montana side able to slow UND a little, but not enough to earn a goal against them.

Going forward, this team has shown the ability just today against a team that made the NCAA tournament last year to do literally everything but put the ball in the back of the net. If this team can keep this pace up the rest of the year more often than not their results will be on the positive side of the ledger.

That all being said they face a tough test against the Gaels of St. Mary’s College on Sunday at 11:30 AM. If this same intensity can be carried over to Sunday morning, look for Eiden, McNitt, and the rest of this side to challenge a very good Gaels program.

Astounding Ahrens and Fantastic Flores Pace Four Set UND Win

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

Coming into their second to last home game, UND needed to find some consistency. They were unable to do so in the first set as a 1-23 Western Illinois side was able to come in and take the first set 25-21. They did so with with 15 kills and capitalizing on six attack and two service errors.That said, the rest of the match played out quite a bit differently as UND went on to win this key conference match in four sets (21-25, 25-21, 25-17, 25-23).

After the 25-21 first set loss, UND needed to adjust. The Fighting Hawks were able to dramatically improve their team hitting in the second set to even things up in the second as they flipped the score to a 25-21 set two win. Through two sets, the teams evened things out a bit as they both finished set two with ten attack errors apiece. Throughout the first few sets both teams had stars emerge. Shia Sanders for the Leathernecks paced them with 15 kills on the evening , and Lexi Ahrens paced UND. Both of them were the most efficient players for their teams with multiple kills, and both were able to limit their errors. On the night Ahrens finished with 13 kills on 21 swings including a mere two attack errors for the Fighting Hawks.

Set three looked identical from a hitting perspective for UND. The Fighting Hawks were able to rack up 16 kills on 33 swings again combined with only four attack errors to take the third set 25-17. Finally, in the fourth set the Leathernecks fought back but UND was able to hang on despite 11 attack errors and wrap up the match with a 25-23 fourth set win. In addition to Ahrens, credit Taliyah Flores tonight. The normal back-row player for UND played a more offensive role tonight and played a superb game. She finished with 11 kills on 25 swings with a mere three attack errors and 7 digs. She was able to fill gaps in UND’s lineup created by injury and, along with Ahrens showed how much their games have developed in their first season for UND.

On senior night, where UND’s three seniors were honored, two freshman stole the show. The Fighting Hawks will look to make large steps to a Summit League Tournament appearance this Saturday in their home finale against Purdue Fort Wayne. If this team can play a consistent match and lower their errors a bit, they can as they have in the past, compete with anyone in this conference. Saturday morning will go a long way to determining UND’s postseason fate.

NDSU Soccer Utilizes Possession Game to Defeat UND 2-1: A Recap

(Photo Credit: Russ Hons-FightingHawks.com)

On Sunday in East Grand Forks, North Dakota faced their long time rival NDSU. This time it meant a  lot more. This was the first Division One conference match between the two as Summit League rivals. This game was a contrast between two disparate styles of soccer. NDSU plays a possession game and generates quick chances on counters. UND plays a speed game and looks to run by their opponents. We saw both of those styles on display today.

In the end, NDSU and their style won the day. UND struck first in the second, after a scoreless first half. Katie Moller took a feed from Olivia Knox and deposited one in the back of the net. That was Moller’s tenth tally this season. That goal came 51:11 into the match. Roughly 24 minutes later NDSU was pressuring and forced UND netminder to come off her line to play the ball. She could not get to it and Holly Enderle found Hanna Norman for the equalizer.

The game would not remain tied for long as Malley O’Brien was able to  convert a feed from Holly Enderle to provide the final margin. UND had more chances in the second but was only able to convert once. Olivia Swenson finished the day with five saves, and NDSU netminder Monica Polgar finished with four.

Now UND has to get ready for a tough Summit League road trip against Omaha and Denver. UND has experience playing against teams that like to hold possession in Portland and NDSU. The next challenge will be utilizing their superb depth of speed to play the game on their terms. The result was not what they wanted today, but they picked up some things they can learn from. Look for UND to try to take today’s lessons forward as they head out on the road next weekend.

UND Volleyball: Retooling with Kayla Williams

(Photo Courtesy of Russell Hons/UND Athletics)

On Tuesday night, UND Volleyball fans got to see their first look at a revamped 2018 squad trying to carry its Big Sky success over to the Summit League.  This retooled squad comes with transfer Kayla Williams. The former University of Connecticut star came to North Dakota for this season and looks to take over one of the key outside hitter roles vacated by UND’s large senior class. She has already produced an immediate impact with 23 kills (16,7) in the Fighting Hawks’ first two matches, and another double digit kill effort to help UND win its first match of the season against Green Bay this morning.

Upon her transfer, VolleyMob noted some key statistics from Williams’ previous season with UCONN:

“This past season, Williams missed eight matches yet still led the Huskies in kills (310, 3.83 per set) and aces (33, 0.41 per set). She also notched 228 digs (2.81 per set) and 33 blocks (0.41 per set).”

On recruiting Williams to UND, Fighting Hawks Head Coach Mark Pryor described the importance of being able to attract talent like Kayla to UND. Williams can play all six rotations and is an outside hitter. Last year, she finished third in the American Athletic Conference in points per set. Having Williams helps UND maintain its competitive nature going into the new season in the conference. Look for the Staten Island, NY native to have an immediate impact on the Fighting Hawks this season.

From Williams’ perspective, she was drawn to UND due to the superb culture that Coach Pryor has built. She was contacted after the start of 2018. Williams came to Grand Forks during the one of the coldest parts of the year to check things out. She came when the temperature was -19 degrees outside. Atmosphere and the team, definitely not the weather first drew her to this campus to play.

Kayla describes her style on the court as ” hard working, persistent, and a little annoying.” That superb tenacity has already payed immediate dividends with her contributions to the score sheet in all three matches this season.

Away from the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, Williams appreciates the design of the campus and its overall home-like feeling it provides.

Look for more from Kayla this season as she has already proven to provide an immediate impact on the court.