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UND's lone senior leads the way as Hawks pursue title

University of North Dakota's Chelsea Moser (11), right, answers back against Idaho's Sarah Sharp (20), left and DeVonne Dyter (14) during a match at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Arena in Grand Forks, ND on Saturday, November 5, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

When it comes to kills and other statistics, the UND volleyball team is balanced. But senior leadership balance? Not so much.

That's because Chelsea Moser is the lone senior and lone captain on the 16-player roster of the Fighting Hawks, who are sizzling hot in pursuit of a spot in the NCAA Division I tournament.

Their record is 23-9, including a 14-1 run to end the regular season. Although Moser said she wished there were other seniors to show the way, coach Mark Pryor said she's doing fine in her solo leadership capacity.

"She's what you want as a student-athlete," Pryor said. "She knows her role. She's calm and steady and never on a rollercoaster of emotions. That eases the other players on the court."

This week, it will be a familiar court. As Big Sky Conference regular-season champs, the Fighting Hawks will be at home for the league playoffs. The winner of the eight-team tournament, running from Thursday through Saturday at The Betty, advances to the NCAA Division I playoffs, which would be a first for the program.

The top-seeded Hawks will play No. 8 seed Idaho in the first round at 7 p.m. Thursday. UND beat Idaho twice during the regular season, but Idaho also was swept by the Hawks last year during the regular season before defeating UND in the Big Sky tournament's first round.

Moser, a second-team all-conference player last year, said a different mindset and a more balanced squad should turn the tables of last year.

"We all got together in the Spring and decided that all that matters are W's and banners," Moser said. "In volleyball, no one can do it by themself. You can't have a ball hog in volleyball. And, if you have a weak point, the other team will find it."

The statistics show that the Hawks are balanced, with no glaring weakness. The hitting is balanced, with junior Tamara Merseli leading with 328 kills, followed by Moser with 304, Faith Dooley with 283, Ashley Brueggeman with 184 and Julia Kaczorowska with 146.

Moser also leads the pack in hitting percentage (.345) and service aces (27) and is second in blocks (93) behind Dooley's 129.

Moser has come a long way from being a red-shirt in her first year and playing sparingly in her second year. She was a rotation regular as a sophomore and an all-conference second-teamer a year ago. Her numbers have kept rising this year, along with UND's record.

"UND was the only Division I school to offer me a scholarship," said Moser, whose home is in Willamina, Ore. "I had some scholarship offers from Division II schools and the chance to walk on at D-I schools, but once I visited UND, I loved the campus, the atmosphere, and the players and people I met.

"This year we found our identity—relentless, togetherness and fun."

Big Sky honors

four UND players

Junior setter Sydney Griffin headlined a group of four UND players honored on the all-Big Sky Conference first team announced Wednesday by league officials.

Griffin was named Most Valuable Player in the league, the first such award for a UND player.

UND's Tamara Merseli was named the Newcomer of the Year while Faith Dooley and Chelsea Moser each were named all-Big Sky first team picks.

UND's four players on the first team is a first in Big Sky Conference history.

Griffin's 1,188 assists this season place her seventh in NCAA Division I. She has produced nine double-double matches this season.

Merseli, a transfer from Indian Hills Community College, has produced a team-high 12 double-doubles. The junior from Belgrade, Serbia, leads the team in kills (328) and ranks second in digs (451).

Moser is the lone senior on the roster and has helped UND to a 92-42 record in her four seasons. She's piled up 952 kills and is hitting .299, the third-best percentage in UND history.

Dooley is a three-time member of the all-conference team, moving to the first team after a pair of second team nods. The junior from Wheatland, N.D., is 28 blocks shy of the all-time UND record.