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UND downs Idaho State, reaches Big Sky volleyball title match

University of North Dakota cheers after gaining a point during a championship game against Idaho State in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, November 18, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
University of North Dakota's Julia Kaczorowska (3) fires a spike at Idaho State's Brooke Pehrson (14), center, and Hayley Farrer (13) during a championship game in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, November 18, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
University of North Dakota's Tamara Merseli (7) dives to keep the play alive during a championship game against Idaho State in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, November 18, 2016. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

When UND senior hitter Chelsea Moser was asked if Friday’s performance on the volleyball court was the team’s best showing of the season, she had a confident answer:

“I think it’s the best we’ve played this year except for tomorrow.”

It will take quite the showing to better UND’s commanding 25-10, 25-20, 25-19 win over Idaho State in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament. At 7 tonight at The Betty, the Fighting Hawks will meet Northern Arizona, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Division I tournament.

“We’re trying to make history, so we have to be excited,” junior outside hitter Tamara Merseli said, referring to UND’s opportunity to reach the Division I tournament for the first time. “This is something we’ve been working for. We’re definitely pumped at the opportunity to do it. It’s something you dream about, so we have to be excited.”

The Hawks rubbed up against perfection in the first set, as 22 of their 25 points came on kills or blocks. It wasn’t that ISU was providing any charity points. From a 7-7 tie, UND went on a 13-1 run and then finished it off with four consecutive points.

The Hawks didn’t cool off much from there, as their .448 hitting percentage for the match was their best showing of the season and set a Big Sky tournament record. Records showed that UND’s best hitting percentage in school history was .500 in a win against North Dakota State last season.

“We had five hitting errors in the entire match? That’s ridiculous,” UND coach Mark Pryor said after looking at the statistic sheet.

The stat sheet had Merseli with 16 kills and one error, Moser with 10 kills and one error, Ashley Brueggeman with eight kills and no errors and Faith Dooley with seven kills and no errors.

Pryor said the team’s play early set the tone. “Our fast start transferred the pressure on them and took it off us,” he said. “We played clean and our blocking was great. We dictated how the game was going to be played.”

UND took permanent leads at 16-15 in the second set and 14-13 in the third. With a .139 hitting percentage, the Bengals had no answer.

“UND did a good job of putting pressure on us,” ISU coach Rick Reynolds said. “We didn’t make any adjustments and didn’t take advantage of the few opportunities we had.

“They came up with all the big points.”

While UND is the No. 1 seed in the tournament, is on its home floor and defeated Northern Arizona 3-0 during the regular season, Pryor lobbied to be considered the underdog because Northern Arizona was the Big Sky’s representative last year.

“Yes, we’re at home, but we’re still the underdogs because we haven’t broken through to get into the NCAA tournament like Northern Arizona has,” Pryor said. “They won it last year and are still in it now.”