KEARNEY, Neb. – Third-ranked and second-seeded Concordia-St. Paul (30-2) advanced to the third round of the NCAA tournament for the ninth consecutive year by defeating seventh-ranked and third-seeded Minnesota-Duluth (28-4) in three sets (25-21, 25-15, 25-22) on Friday. Concordia will be one of 16 teams still standing as they seek a fifth consecutive NCAA title. They’ll play the fifth-seeded and ninth-ranked Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.
“We were aggressive and our serve receive along with our setter (Konetchy) gave us a chance to go up and take good swings,” Concordia head coach Brady Starkey said.
The great passing and Konetchy’s play is evident by the zero serve receive errors and a .252 attack percentage against the 10th-ranked team in the nation.
Kayla Koenecke had 10 kills and Ashley Murtha had nine to lead the offense. Megan Carlson and Taylor Fieldsted had 18 and 10 digs respectively. The two also each had three aces as CU racked up nine total in the match. Concordia’s block was also key in the match with 10 blocks, six by Katie Habeck and four by Koenecke.
In the first set, the Golden Bears were up 8-7 before a block by Haag and Koenecke gave CU some breathing room at 9-7. Concordia maintained the lead until UMD scored three consecutive to tie the set at 14. Concordia had a 17-14 lead and looked to lock up the set as Ellie Duffy ran down a kill attempt and kept the ball alive before Habeck sent a ball to the floor giving CU a four-point lead at 18-14. The Bulldogs pulled within one on two occasions before CU pulled out the 25-21 set one win.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, but CU rattled off six consecutive to take a 6-3 lead on back-to-back aces from Carlson. UMD tied the score at seven and it remained a back-and-forth battle as CU held a 15-14 lead midway through. A kill by Haag and a Minnesota-Duluth attack error gave CU a 17-14 lead. UMD got a kill to make it 17-15 but the Golden Bears defense stepped up big at the end of the set making it the last point UMD scored in the set. Concordia had two aces, forced four attack errors and had a block to take the set 25-15.
Concordia had a 4-1 lead in the third set before UMD rallied back to tie it seven once again. The Bulldogs held a 10-8 lead as they looked to force a fourth set. Konetchy did her best to not let happen with a slick kill to give CU the lead at 13-12 dumping the ball after a back and forth rally. Minnesota-Duluth again pulled ahead at 15-13 and did not let CU take a lead until Koenecke gave them a lead at 21-20. Moments later Habeck and Murtha teamed up for a big block forcing a UMD timeout with the score 22-20. After the timeout the Golden Bears got a little bit of fortune as a kill attempt from UMD went off the shoulder of Carlson, then went over the net and fell to give CU the point. Minnesota-Duluth pulled within one at 23-22 forcing a CU timeout. Following the break, CU got a kill from Murtha and Habeck to finish off the Bulldogs giving CU the sweep.