There’s a lot to like about the UMD volleyball team. The Bulldogs are returning several key pieces from their 29-5 campaign in 2012. They boast the NSIC Preseason Player of the Year in senior outside hitter Kate Lange. And they enter 2013 fourth in the nation—their best starting position since 2007.
But there is one thing that has eluded the squad in spite of all its achievements the last few seasons: a way around Concordia-St. Paul.
Winners of the last six NCAA Division II Championships, the Golden Bears have ended UMD’s title hopes in the regional semifinals each of the last two years. Ranked No. 1 nationally with 43 of 48 first-place votes, Concordia-St. Paul may well stand in UMD’s path to a first national championship in 2013.
This year, Jim Boos’ Bulldogs aim for their 12th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and yet another chance to interrupt Concordia-St. Paul’s run of dominance. UMD saw the graduation of captains Samantha Hertaus and Kalli Lochner, but brings back All-Americans Lange and Ashley Hinsch.
The Bulldogs earned a share of the NSIC crown with Concordia-St. Paul in 2011 and 2012. Both years, UMD managed to take down the Golden Bears in the regular season, only to fall to the eventual national champions in the postseason.
A key part of the roadblock has been Concordia-St. Paul’s ability to limit the offensive impact of Lange. The Hibbing, Minn., native has mustered 21 total kills in UMD’s last two playoff losses, including a season-low 10 kills in 2012.
After beating the Golden Bears 3-1 at Romano Gymnasium last September, the Bulldogs were swept in the playoff rematch.
It’s not just Concordia-St. Paul that UMD has to contend with out of the NSIC. The conference is perhaps the strongest in Division II volleyball, housing three of the top six teams in the country (Concordia-St. Paul, UMD and No. 6 Southwest Minnesota State) and four of the top 25.
UMD begins its quest for a third straight piece of the NSIC title in Pensacola, Fla., Thursday with matches against No. 18 Wheeling Jesuit and No. 19 West Florida.
Although, fair or not, the Bulldogs will likely be judged by how they fare in their regular-season series against Concordia-St. Paul, and in a potential playoff showdown. The teams should be plenty familiar if they do square off again in regional competition. UMD hosts the Golden Bears Nov. 16 in the regular-season finale.
BY KYLE FARRIS firstname.lastname@example.org