College Volleyball: North Dakota Defeats NDSU in Fargo

The Fighting Hawks defeated in-state rival North Dakota State, 3-1

FARGO, N.D. –  (UND Athletics) Inside a packed house, on the road, down two starters, and in a heated rivalry game, Head Coach Mark Pryor felt perhaps a little more nervous than normal, but the University of North Dakota volleyball team gave him a reason to unwind as the Fighting Hawks defeated in-state rival North Dakota State, 3-1 (25-22, 25-22, 12-25, 25-16) on Friday night at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse.

“We had two starters that didn’t play tonight and that was a little difficult,” said Pryor. “I really did not know the outcome would be like this. Lexi Ahrens has really only had mop-up time here and there, so for her to come in as a freshman and do what she did was pretty nice to see. We just played a little bit cleaner towards the end tonight.”

UND (13-11, 5-3 Summit League) snaps a two-match losing skid in conference play and remains in firm position of one of the six spots fighting for a postseason berth in Denver. The two victories in a single season over the Bison (5-14, 3-5 Summit League) is the first time since 1976, UND’s first season of collegiate volleyball, that the Hawks have beaten their rivals multiple times in a year.

“Tonight was a fun night,” echoed Pryor. “For us to be down two starters and to come here and get a win is big.”

Kayla Williams returned to the starting lineup in a big way for the visitors, posting a match-high 17 kills on a .267 hitting percentage.

Jordan Vail, who is possibly playing North Dakota State for the final time in her career barring a postseason meeting, finished second on the team with 13 kills and hit .367. The conference’s leader in total blocks added two block assists and a solo rejection to her tally on the evening.

“Jordan did a really good job of being available in transition and that allowed us to really be terminal from the middle on long rallies,” said Pryor on his senior leader in the middle.

Lexi Ahrens, who was thrusted into the starting role due to a pair of injuries to Brynn Nieukirk and Ashley Brueggeman, was outstanding in the victory. The freshman reached double digit kills for the first time in her career with 12, and hit a team-high .391 among players with at least five kills. Ahrens also posted a pair of block assists to help the Hawks to their six on the night.

“Lexi played a great match for us in her first match starting and playing serious minutes,” said Pryor on his freshman hitter. “What was really great about it was watching Ashley Brueggeman mentor her throughout the match. You could see that Ashley was so invested in teaching and helping.”

While her stint in the starting lineup has been short so far, Darian Chwialkowski turned in her finest performance in a UND uniform on Friday. The true freshman finished with eight kills, 16 digs, and two block assists to help spread out the attack for the Hawks.

“Kayla [Williams] and Darian did a nice job holding down the left side with Brynn [Nieukirk] out,” echoed Pryor. “Darian is really growing from a defensive and offensive standpoint.”

Taliyah Flores rebounded from a seven-dig performance against No. 6 Pittsburgh on Tuesday with a match-high 38 for the visitors. The mark is the fourth time this season that the freshman has eclipsed 30 digs in a match and has now tallied double digits in 16 of her last 17 contests. Tamika Brekke finished third on the team with 11 digs, becoming the third player to reach the 10-dig plateau for UND.

After a career-high 61 assists in the last meeting between the two teams, Roosa Rautio finished with a sparkling 50-helper night for the Hawks. The freshman has now recorded 40-or-more dishes in six of the last 11 matches and is the first player to reach the 900-assist mark in the nation.

North Dakota State rode the momentum of the 1,449 in attendance to begin the first set, scoring the frame’s first four points to take an early 4-0 lead before Williams got the Fighting Hawks on the board with a kill. After a long rally went the way of the visitors thanks to a Williams kill, Rutten and Lexi Ahrens teamed up for a double block to cut the deficit to 6-4.

The teams continued to trade points until an errant attack from the Bison leveled the stanza at 11 before Williams dropped a perfect ball into the corner to give the Hawks their first lead of the night, 12-11. NDSU regained its advantage with three straight points to move in front, 18-16, and forced a UND timeout.

Out of the timeout it was UND who answered, rattling off six of the next eight points to turn a deficit as large as three into a 22-21 lead. Rutten forced a NDSU timeout with a monster kill from the middle to put the Hawks in front. An attack error by the Bison pushed the advantage to 23-21 as the hosts called their second stoppage.

Williams polished off the set victory for the Fighting Hawks with back-to-back kills to give UND a 1-0 lead in the match.

In the second set, UND came out firing by scoring five of the first six points to take a 5-1 lead and force an early timeout by the Bison. Much like the Hawks did in the first, NDSU battled back in the second.

UND was able to maintain its lead for a majority of the set until the Bison eventually tied the frame at 14 before taking a 15-14 advantage with back-to-back kills. The Hawks flipped the script with a 3-0 spurt thanks to a kill from Ahrens, a double block by the freshman and Rutten, and a NDSU attack error to move in front, 17-15.

Following a long rally that ended with a Bison point to tie the set at 22, Williams placed her 12th kill of the evening in the back corner before Chwialkowski collected a kill with a nice tip over the blockers. UND then claimed the set as a NDSU attack went wide to put the visitors in front, 2-0, in the match with a 25-22 victory.

In keeping with the ebb-and-flow theme of the match, it was NDSU who came out with an early lead to begin the third set as the Bison scored five of the first six points to take a 5-1 advantage. The Bison kept up the offensive attack, building their cushion up to 7-2 as UND took an early timeout.

North Dakota State hit .414 in the set as the Bison forced a fourth stanza with a 25-12 victory. The set loss is only the third by UND against its in-state rivals over the last five meetings.

In the fourth set, the Bison were the ones who jumped out on the scoreboard early with a pair of four-point advantages. The Hawks battled back, however, embarking on a 5-1 run to eventually tie the score at nine. UND silenced the crowd momentarily with back-to-back kills from Ahrens to take a 12-10 lead and force a NDSU timeout.

Vail, playing against the Bison for the final time in her career during the regular season, began to take over out of the timeout as the senior teamed up with Chwialkowski before slamming down a kill to give UND a 14-11 lead. The San Antonio native added another kill before skying for a solo block to add to the conference leader’s totals. Williams chipped in a trio of kills to extend the advantage to 20-14 and force another Bison timeout.

The stoppage proved to be no difference as the visitors kept their foot on the gas to claim the fourth set by a 25-16 score and win the match, 3-1.

“If you look at the first two sets, they could have gone either way,” Pryor stressed. “We just played a little bit cleaner when we had to. This is a great sign for the future. South Dakota shows up on Sunday and it is gonna be tough. We could definitively use as many fans at the Betty as possible.”

The 2016 Big Sky Coach of the Year let everyone know their Sunday plans.

“In case you are wondering and not busy. Just saying.”

North Dakota returns home on Sunday afternoon for another crucial conference showdown against South Dakota. First serve is scheduled for 2 p.m. and can be seen live on FOX Sports North.

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