LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Southwest Minnesota State will play for its first volleyball championship after defeating Grand Valley State 25-19, 25-23, 25-18 in the semifinals of the Division II Women’s Volleyball Championship on Friday.
The sweep continued a remarkable tournament run during which the Mustangs have felled seven-time champion Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota-Duluth, Sonoma State (rallying from a 2-0 deficit) and now Grand Valley State, which entered the semis having not lost a set the entire tournament.A pair of freshmen hitters led the way for the Mustangs, as Eisha Oden and Kenzie Beekman combined for 21 kills on the day. Oden connected on 11 of 19 attempts for a season-high .526 hitting percentage.
Oden came out swinging form the opening bell as the Mustangs built a five-point margin in the first set and maintained it from there.
Grand Valley State was high energy in the second set, bolting to a 4-1 lead and increasing the margin to 17-10 behind three kills from senior hitter Abby Aiken and two from junior Betsy Ronda. Aiken recorded a team-high nine kills for the match.
But Southwest Minnesota State sophomore middle blocker Sarah Parker connected three times during an 8-1 Mustang run to knot the score at 18. Parker slammed two more kills down the stretch to complete the rally and give the Mustangs a commanding lead in the match.
Parker and Oden continued their kill antics in the third set. Oden accounted for six points on four kills and two blocks as Southwest Minnesota State built a 17-11 lead. Grand Valley State closed to within five at 23-18, but Beekman registered a kill and the Lakers blocked Abbey Thissen’s kill attempt out of bounds on match point. Thissen had closed out each of the first two sets as well.
Southwest Minnesota State held Grand Valley State to a season-low .105 hitting percentage. Thissen attributed that in part to the Mustang hitters’ strategic attack.
“We knew that [the Grand Valley blockers] were going to battle every point, so when we got up and swung, we just tried to take smart, efficient swings, just trying our best to score when we had the opportunity,” Thissen said. “But if we weren’t in a good position to score, our hitters did a good job of putting the ball over the net and then being ready to defend again.”
The match was played as part of the Division II National Championships Festival being held this week in Louisville.