Romano Gymnasium played host to one of two top ten Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference battles on Saturday.
And it didn't disappoint.
No. 9 University of Minnesota Duluth outmuscled Northern State University to shock the No. 1 in the nation and hand the Wolves their first loss of the season. UMD (12-3; 6-1 NSIC) needed to go the distance to secure the victory. It dropped the first set but came back to capture the next two sets to go up 2-1. Northern State won the neck-and-neck fourth set to force a winner-take-all fifth, which the Bulldogs won 15-12.
It was a collective effort as everyone chipped in, including a few registering collegiate bests. Freshman middle blocker Summer Ballard had eight total blocks, shattering her previous total of six, and sophomore outside hitter Kate Berg thumped home 22 kills to set her new collegiate high.
Berg was one of three Bulldogs to gather double-doubles in the contest. Berg compiled 16 digs -- tying a career best -- to go along with her match-leading 22 kills. Senior outside hitter Makenzie Morgen hammered down 14 kills and amassed 22 digs while junior setter Emily Torve went off for 64 assists and 15 digs. Her 64 assists this afternoon was one shy of matching her collegiate best.
Errors in the opening set hurt the Bulldogs as they committed 10 errors alone in that frame. UMD hit .191 in the set but almost fought off multiple set points to steal the set. The Wolves were finally able to take the first on the fifth set point. The prowess at the end of the set propelled the Bulldogs into a much better performance in the second. UMD tied the match when it finished hitting .424 in the second and shored up their work on the defensive end forcing Northern State into 10 hitting errors. The Bulldogs gained the lead after finishing the third on a 7-0 run. After a kill by Berg, Morgen served the Bulldogs to the end with kills by junior outside hitter Hanna Meyer and Ballard, and a double block by Ballard and Berg to seal the set.
The Wolves had their best set in the fourth, hitting .356 as they were able to stay in system. Northern State fought back from a 7-3 deficit but could never pull away until the last few points. UMD trailed after the opening point in the fifth but that was the only time it trailed. Meyer threw down three kills and junior middle blocker Abby Thor turned back three attacks in the final set, and those two showed up big on match point as they combined on the double block against the Wolves' leading attacker Hailey Busch.
No team this season had found an answer to stop the nation's best offense. The Wolves, coming into the weekend, sported the best hitting percentage (.383) with six hitters attacking over .400, and never hit below .297 in any match. The Bulldogs had the blueprint for success as they held the Wolves to a .191 hitting clip. Busch had 20 kills to lead Northern State on a match-high 74 attacks but UMD forced the Wolves into 31 hitting errors, a season-high for Northern State. The Bulldogs had 14 total blocks led by the aforementioned Ballard. Thor had six and Meyer posted seven blocks as well. Junior defensive specialist Keena Seiffert scooped up 19 digs. Freshman Sydney Lanoue picked up nine digs.
The Bulldogs put their 14-game home winning streak on the line next Friday night with a contest against Augustana University.