Minnesota, Concordia Continue Deep Runs in NCAA Volleyball

Created: 12/07/2012 10:53 PM KSTP.com By: Chris Long

The Concordia-St Paul Golden Bears moved within one win of securing a 6th straight NCAA Division-II National Championship, while the Minnesota Gophers advanced to earn an Elite Eight matchup with Big Ten rival Penn State.

===DIVISION I SWEET SIXTEEN===

The University of Minnesota volleyball team advanced to the Elite Eight as the Golden Gophers defeated host Purdue in four sets, tonight in West Lafayette, Ind. The Gophers (27-7) fell in the first set, 23-25, but came back and won the next three, 26-24, 25-23, 25-21. Minnesota plays No. 1 seed Penn State tomorrow at 4 pm ET, 3 p.m CT and will be televised on ESPNU.

Minnesota had three players achieve double doubles. Daly Santana had a team-high 16 kills and 14 digs, while Katherine Harms had 15 kills and 10 digs. Ashley Wittman provided 14 kills and 12 digs as Tori Dixon had 11 kills and a team-high five blocks.

Tied at 11, Purdue would take the lead at 12-11 en route to a 25-23 set win. Minnesota jumped out to an early 5-1 lead, only to have the Boilermakers battle back and tie up the set. Purdue would go on a 6-1 run and take a 17-12 lead. Minnesota, however, would battle back and later pull within one at 22-21 on a block by Dana Knudsen and Harms. The Boilermakers, however, would finish off the set on a kill by Ariel Turner for a 25-23 win. Dixon and Harms each had three kills in that set and were out-blocked, 3.0-1.0.

Minnesota tied the match at 1-1 with a 26-24 second set win. The set was decided after 11 tie scores and four lead changes. After Purdue jumped out to a 7-2 lead, the Gophers retaliated and tied the set at nine with a kill from Wittman. As the Gophers trailed, 19-17, Minnesota had back-to-back kills from Santana and Harms to knot it at 19. Minnesota would go up, 24-22 for set point on a kill by Dixon. However, Purdue would tie up the set at 24 all on a kill from Anna Drewry. Minnesota finished off the set with back-to-back kills from team captain Wittman to tie up the match.

Minnesota went up 2-1 with a 25-23 third-set win. Minnesota came out of the intermission and started the third set with a 9-3 lead. Purdue would pull to 13-12 on a Rachel Davis kill, before Minnesota would build up the lead again at 19-14 on a Purdue bad set. The Boilermakers, however, would come back and close the deficit to 22-21 on a kill from Annie Drews. Minnesota capitalized on a block from Harms and Dixon, while Purdue had an attack error for a 25-23 Minnesota set win.

Santana and Harms paved the way for the Gophers in the fourth set to put away Purdue with a 25-21 set win. Santana had seven kills and four digs, while Harms had six kills. Of her 12 attempts, Santana hit .500 in the fourth and committed just one error. Minnesota also out-blocked the Boilermakers, 3.0-1.0. As the two teams were tied at 17, Minnesota would pull ahead two on kills from Harms and Santana at 19-17. Santana would also add another kill to put the Gophers at 21-18 to force Purdue to call a timeout. Minnesota, however, would add a four-point lead when Santana and Dixon combined for a block. Minnesota would advance to the next round on a kill from Harms for the 24th point and finish off the match on a block from Knudsen and Wittman.

The last time the Gopher volleyball program made it to the Elite Eight, it went onto the NCAA Final Four in 2009. Minnesota defeated Colorado State in the Sweet 16 that year and Florida State in the Elite Eight for a trek to the 2009 Final Four, where the Gophers fell to Texas, 19-25, 20-25, 15-25.Minnesota lost both matches to Penn State earlier this year in a 3-0 loss in Minneapolis and 3-1 in State College, Pa.

(Courtesy: University of Minnesota Sports Information)

===DIVISION II NATIONAL SEMIFINAL===

The top-ranked Concordia-St. Paul volleyball team (32-4) defeated co-No. 5 BYU-Hawaii 3-1 on Friday in the NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball National Semifinals (20-25, 25-11, 25-19, 25-14) on the campus of the University of West Florida.
 
The win improves Concordia's NCAA Tournament win streak to 35 consecutive matches, as its all-time NCAA Tournament record improves to 43-4 in 10 appearances. Concordia is now a perfect 7-0 in seven trips to the National Semifinals (Elite Eight).
 
The Golden Bears will continue their quest for an NCAA (all divisions) record-tying sixth-consecutive national championship in the final tomorrow at 7 p.m. central time against the winner of #19 Indianapolis and #7 Tampa. Concordia is 5-1 in six prior appearances in the National Championship.
 
“Our girls did a really good job of defending the court,” Concordia head coach Brady Starkey said. “Everything they threw at us, we defended as hard as we could. Our serve receive did a really good job of fighting to get us in system and allow our offense flourish.”
 
BYU-Hawaii opened the match with a 4-1 lead in the first set and didn’t look back the rest of the frame. Concordia tied the score 9-9, but was never able to take the lead. The Seasiders gained their largest lead of the set at 20-15 to force a CU timeout. After the break, the Golden Bears responded with four of the next six points for a 22-19 deficit, but BYU-Hawaii ended the set with four of the final five points.
 
The Golden Bears responded with a dominating second set. They improved their hitting percentage from .227 (14-4-44) to .643 (19-1-28) for a convincing 25-11 victory. Leading 13-10 midway through the set, the Bears rallied for nine straight points with Kayla Koenecke (Delano, Minn.) on the serve to take a comfortable 22-10 advantage.
 
In the third set, the two squads battled back and forth with nine scoring ties and five lead changes in the first 25 rallies. The last lead change of the set occurred on a Koenecke kill, giving the Bears a 13-12 advantage they would not give up. CU pushed on the rest of the frame en route to a 25-19 victory.

The fourth set remained close through 18 volleys, resulting in a 9-9 tie. Concordia then took the following two points to force a BYU-Hawaii timeout, but the Bears came out of the break and gained a 15-9 lead. The momentum stayed on Concordia’s half of the court and Starkey’s squad punched a ticket to its sixth consecutive NCAA Championship match with a 25-14 win.
 
The Golden Bears were led by Koenecke as the AVCA All-American right side hitter tallied a career-high 23 kills on 35 attempts with only one error for a .629 attack percentage. She also tallied 15 digs for her team-leading 12th double-double of the season.
 
“Hats off to our serve receivers,” Koenecke mentioned. “They did a great job so Amanda was able to reverse the flow and get me a ton of one-on-one’s as well as our other hitters, too. And even out of system, I just remembered to hit high and hard and that seemed to work in my favor tonight.”
 
Three other Bears registered double figure kills – Ellie Duffy (Fridley, Minn.) (16), Cassie Haag (Plymouth, Minn.) (14) and Ashley Murtha (Apple Valley, Minn.) (12). Murtha posted a double-double by adding 13 digs.
 
All-American setter Amanda Konetchy (Victoria, Minn.) distributed 57 assists, leading to a .401 team attack rate (70-11-147). She was the third Golden Bear to post a double-double with 13 digs.
 
Leading the defense was first-year libero Taylor Dordan (Blaine, Minn.) as she accumulated 20 digs.
 
Concordia will compete in its seventh national title match tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. and is aiming for an unprecedented sixth consecutive national title.
 
“We’re feeling really good right now,” Duffy acknowledged. “We like to focus on what we can do on our side of the net. I think that if we scrap and play hard on defense and serve receive like we did tonight that we have a great shot against anybody.” 

(Courtesy: Concordia University Sports Information)