BY SAM GAZZOLA | The Statesman
Despite finishing the regular season on a six game winning streak, the UMD volleyball team will be on the road when they open their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference playoff run in Wayne, Nebraska, on Wednesday night.
The playoff format is an eight team, single-elimination bracket in which the top seed gets home court advantage. Concordia-St. Paul earned the number one seed, finishing the season with a conference record of 18-2, and will host the semi-finals and finals, regardless of whether or not they are playing in them. The winner of the tournament will automatically earn a spot in the NCAA Central Region tournament.
“When you’ve got a number nine against a number four team in the country as your first round conference tournament matchup, that tells you how good your conference is,” Boos said in reference to his team’s first playoff match.
The Bulldogs finished their regular season in seventh place in the NSIC with a record of 22-7 overall and 15-5 in the conference. Their first opponent will be No. 8 Wayne State College, who finished just one spot ahead of the Bulldogs in the standings. The two teams met once this season in October in a match that saw the Wildcats sweep UMD. It was the only time the Bulldogs lost in straight sets at home this season.
“We know what Wayne is,” Boos said. “They got us out of system and made us very uncomfortable. We’ve got to serve a little better to make them uncomfortable. So it’s really gonna boil down to controlling the ball better and defending better.”
But on Wednesday, the circumstances will be different. WSC finished their season with a loss to sixth seed Winona State in five sets. On top of this, the Wildcats lost three of their last five matches. A win in any one of those contests would have put them in a tie for second place. Wayne State is led by senior Courtney VanGroningen, who was recently named the NSIC’s libero of the year.
UMD though is playing some of their best volleyball of season, riding six consecutive wins, and the resulting momentum, into the postseason. The Bulldogs are coming off their most impressive conference win of the season, a five-set victory over the No. 3 team in the country, Northern State University.
“We were very efficient with our hitting percentage, we limited our errors and we played some pretty aggressive and tenacious defense,” head coach Jim Boos said. “That’s been the recipe over the last six matches we’ve played and it’s coincided with the winning streak we’re on.”
Had the result have gone the other way, NSU would have finished the year tied with Concordia atop the conference, and with the tiebreaker, would have earned the top seed. However, their third loss of the season left them with the second seed and a meeting against Winona State.
A win over the Wildcats would set up a rematch for the Bulldogs against either Concordia or Mankato, teams that the Bulldogs have a combined 0-3 record against this year. A loss would mean the end of of the NSIC tournament, and potentially the season. Even with a loss, teams could still earn a spot in the regional tournament. The NCAA will select teams to fill out the remaining spots on Nov. 23.
Boos is optimistic about the coming week for his team.
“Right now, the stretch that we’re on is probably the most consistent, good level of volleyball that we’ve played since the beginning of the year,” Boos said.