UND claims conference title

Team claims first title under coach Hardee in its second year in Big Sky Conference.

The UND volleyball team holds a championship banner Saturday afternoon at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center after defeating Southern Utah.  Photo by Keisuke Yoshimura/The Dakota Student.

In only its second year of Big Sky play, the UND volleyball team split the conference title after sweeping Southern Utah on Saturday in front of a record high 1,193 fans at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

The team needed to win both its Thursday game against Northern Arizona and Saturday’s game in order to claim at least partial hold of the title, which it now shares with Portland State.

“It’s a heck of a deal to do this in the second year,” UND coach Ashley Hardee said. “I think the leadership is one of the things that sets this team apart.”

Saturday also marked the end of regular season collegiate volleyball for North Dakota’s seniors, Ronni Munkeby, Lisa Parlich and Ellen Krueger, all of whom were recognized in a short ceremony after the match.

“I’m extremely proud of my team and to come out and win conference after only two years is unbelievable; the girls are amazing and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Krueger said. “We know that we can do it, and there isn’t a team in this conference after only two years is unbelievable; the girls are amazing and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Krueger said. “We know that we can do it, and there isn’t a team in this conference that we haven’t beaten this year.”

Sweet revenge

Thursday night, UND settled scores with Northern Arizona, the team that fed UND its first conference loss of the season back in October. All North Dakota needed was one win in order to secure one of the top two spots for a bye Friday at the Big Sky Conference Tournament — and UND got it.

North Dakota (22-10, 17-3 Big Sky) took an early lead in set one with the help of three aces in the first six points, two from Mckenzie Hart and the third from Munkeby. UND didn’t let up, holding onto the lead for the duration of the first set.

The second set was dominated by Parlich, who had seven kills and two blocks to help UND shut down the visiting team yet again before heading into the break.

The Green and White walked onto the court Saturday with a shot at the Big Sky Conference regular season title, and they got it in a swift three sets over Southern Utah (25-13, 25-16, 25-12)

“I thought we played pretty well,” Hardee said. “We held an athletic Southern Utah team to a negative hitting percentage, and that’s quite a task to be able to do that defensively.”

North Dakota set the tone for the match right away, leading with a kill from Krueger, who had a match and career-high of 11 kills Saturday. The home team pushed to a quick win in set one as UND swung .262 to the Thunderbirds’ .051.

The visitors led for the first few points in the second set, but were quickly outplayed by North Dakota. Despite UND’s two blocks to Southern Utah’s five, North Dakota out-dug its opponent 19 to 15 in set two, enabling more offensive attempts, which the Green and White took full advantage of.

The third and final set of the night — and of the regular season — was quickly put away, as UND went on an early 5-0 run, winning the set with over twice as many points as the Thunderbirds.

Munkeby was a big part of the first half of the set as she smashed down a kill for the first point, teamed up with Krueger for a block for the next and served in an ace on point seven. Munkeby also had the only solo block for North Dakota that afternoon.

It was UND junior Emily Asche who put the match away with a kill from the outside, after which UND huddled together for the last time as a team in regular season play.

“If we keep playing like the solid team we have these last couple of weeks, we’re going to be unstoppable going forward,” Munkeby said.

Along with celebrating the regular season victory, the Green and White remain focused.

“Winning the regular season was one thing, but we want that tournament title,” Parlich said.

North Dakota heads to Portland this Friday for the Big Sky tournament, where it will have a chance at winning the conference title and playing rival Portland State.

“I’d love to play those guys again,” Hardee said. “We played each other twice and each won in a five game match, and that’s just a lot of good volleyball. Our kids love playing, and they love playing together. They’re an unbelievable unit as a team, and I say bring the best.”

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].