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UND VOLLEYBALL: North Dakota earns Big Sky title

UND's Ellen Krueger hits a shot away from Southern Utah University's Ann Clappier during UND's last regular season match at the Betty Engelstad Arena. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

UND was a so-so team during the 2012 Big Sky Conference volleyball season, finishing 10-10 in league play. In its first year as a Big Sky member, North Dakota qualified for the league's postseason tournament, but Ellen Krueger knew there was so much more potential for the program.

"It was a big deal making it to the conference tournament last year," said Krueger, a UND senior. "But we all knew at the end of the season we could have done better."

UND did much better this season; much, much better.

The North Dakota volleyball team made history Saturday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, beating Southern Utah 25-13, 25-16, 25-12 before 1,193 fans to earn the school's first regular-season championship as a Big Sky member.

UND earned a share of the Big Sky title with Portland State, which beat Idaho State on Saturday night. Both finished 17-3. Portland, however, has the tie-breaker and will take the No. 1 seed into the into next weekend's Big Sky postseason tournament in Portland. UND will be the No. 2 seed and will receive a first-round bye.

In Year No. 2 as a Big Sky member, UND established itself as a league power and North Dakota may be in that position for a while as the program loses only three seniors.

"It was a heck of a deal, to win a title in our second year," said UND coach Ashley Hardee. "Going forward, we don't have to talk anymore about getting over the hump. We proved ourselves."

UND didn't mess around with Southern Utah, controlling play throughout.

"We knew we had to go out and execute," said Hardee. "We always talk about proving ourselves, respecting our opponent and enjoying volleyball. We did that."

Krueger finished with 11 kills, as did freshman Anna Pioske. Lexi Robinson added eight kills, while Lisa Parlich and Ronni Munkeby finished with seven and six, respectively. Parlich and Munkeby are the program's two other seniors.

"We knew we'd get a lot of emotion from our six seniors," said Hardee. "Our quick start was important."

UND didn't take its foot off the gas at all. North Dakota held Southern Utah to a negative hitting percentage (-.028).

"That's quite a task, to do that," Hardee said.

After the match, UND honored its three seniors. And the team also posed for a photo in front of a Big Sky Conference championship banner.

"We wanted a good start on Senior Night," said Krueger. "Everyone was a little anxious for the win. You could feel it in the air. We had a couple of ups and downs but we fought through it."

Now, UND's focus turns toward the Big Sky tournament.

"This year, we exceeded everyone's expectations," said Krueger. "Coach has high expectations for us."

With its finish, UND earned a first-round bye and will play in Friday night's semifinals. The program also is now two wins away from qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

UND averaged 1,130 fans this season -- a program record. Also, UND's average attendance was the highest in the Big Sky since the 2006 season.