VOLLEYBALL: Idaho State ends UND's NCAA tournament bid
PORTLAND, Ore. -- UND's NCAA tournament dream is over.
Idaho State convincingly ended North Dakota's season with a 25-20, 26-24, 23-25, 25-12 victory in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament Friday night in Stott Arena on the campus of Portland State.
A team UND defeated twice during the regular season, the Bengals used a dominant serving game to knock off a UND unit that had just secured a share of its first Big Sky Conference title.
The Bengals advance to the Big Sky title match, where they play the winner of Montana and Portland State at 9 tonight. The winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
UND (22-11), the tournament's No. 2 seed, has yet to win a Big Sky tournament game. North Dakota, which received a first-round bye this year, lost in the quarterfinals a year ago.
"They won the serving and passing game tonight," UND coach Ashley Hardee said. "It wasn't even really close there for a while. We missed seven serves and got aced six times."
After dropping the first set, UND built an eight-point lead in the second set and had set point late. However, the Bengals quickly turned the tide at the end to send UND to intermission down 2-0.
"That's really unlike us," UND senior Ellen Krueger said. "To be ahead on a big run, we usually step on the gas through the rest of the game."
It was a deflating blow to UND's psyche.
"It's hard to get pumped up to play the third game when they just beat you on such a long run," Krueger said.
UND flashed signs of life by winning the third set, despite trailing most of the way and as late as 23-20. But UND's offense, powered by Ronni Munkeby, responded with the final five points to pull UND within 2-1.
But that momentum never carried over into the fourth set as the Bengals picked up a convincing victory in the deciding game.
Munkeby, a first team all-Big Sky performer, closed out her career with another dominant performance. She had 19 kills on 36 attacks.
"Ronni was untouchable for a while there," Hardee said of the senior from Lisbon, N.D. "I thought she might put us on her shoulders and take us all the way through. Late there, (ISU) was sending two or three blockers at her."
Munkeby was joined in double-figure kill totals by Anna Pioske (11) and Lexi Robinson (10). Nikki Husfeldt dished out 48 assists.
Idaho State was paced by four players in double figures, led by Makenzie Filer's 13 kills.
Despite the loss, Hardee said he feels UND is continuing to move in the right direction as a program.
"The season is a success, no question," Hardee said. "We secured a regular season championship ... and all the hard work and effort that goes into that.
"The loss tonight is disappointing and we need to work to get better in the conference tournament, but going back to the previous year this was a step forward and that's what we're all about."
Krueger had similar thoughts.
"I'm really proud of us," she said. "We were the first team at UND so far to be conference champs. That's a big deal. After the disappointment of this loss is over with, people will be able to look back on that and be proud of us. I'm proud of us."