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UND volleyball drops to 1-8 after losing three at UND Classic

The Fighting Hawks rallied from down two sets against Green Bay only to fall in the fifth set before losing in three to Montana.

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Fighting Hawks head volleyball coach Jeremiah Tiffin, center, talks to his players between the first and second sets of a morning volleyball match against Green Bay at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center on Saturday, September 11, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

After winning just two matches last season and opening the fall with one win in seven matches, the UND volleyball team hoped to dig itself out of a funk at the UND Classic.

But Saturday provided more of the same the ups and downs UND has experienced the past few weeks.

First, Fighting Hawks rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay only to lose in five sets. Then, they were swept by the University of Montana to close the UND Classic at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.

“We like what we’ve done in creating a new culture, which you have to with so many new girls,” UND's Lexi Ahrens said following the five-set loss. “But I think there’s just been a challenge of playing with new players and trying to get the same vibe while trusting your teammate next to you.”

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UND middle hitter Lexi Ahrens and outside hitter McCallister Gayle, rear right, celebrate a Fighting Hawks point over Green Bay in the second set of the UND Classic morning volleyball match at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center on Saturday, September 11, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

While returning mainstays like Ahrens, senior libero Darian Chwialkowski, all-freshman team honorable mention Alexa Albinson and outside hitter Sofia Hedqvist, the Fighting Hawks also add seven newcomers in freshmen and transfers that are looking to make a seamless transition into a squad looking to improve.

“There’s no doubt that we are better this year than we were last year,” said UND head coach Jeremiah Tiffin, whose team finished 2-16 during the 2020-21 season. “Sometimes in a growth process there are stumbling blocks and we’ve hit a couple stumbling blocks. While we don’t have the record that we want to have, it is obvious that we are getting better.”

UND dropped to 1-8 after Saturday's losses. It has games against Bradley, Saint Louis and Northern Colorado on the docket this week in Peoria, Ill., before jumping into Summit League play.

“We’ve been preaching to our team that nine times out of 10 isn’t good enough. It needs to be 99 out of 100,” said Tiffin. ”We saw today that this is not a team that is going to accept not playing well. It’s so easy to just sit back and relax and be done. We survived a couple of match-points, came back from 2-0 and we're setting the standard and building from it.”

Green Bay 3, UND 2

UND quickly fell behind to open Saturday's play, falling into a 9-1 hole against Green Bay. Chwialkowski and Heqvist helped the Fighting Hawks dig their way back. As both lifted the team’s momentum, the chances began to swing back to UND’s side. Two blocks by Kelly Wahl began a 12-point run featuring a fairly spread-out offense and four kills from Gayle McCallister.

Chwialkowski, who has been dealing with an early-season injury, was subbed for Madi Hart in the latter sets. Hart has served her role well this year, recording 3.37 digs per set.

“I’ve had the mindset of coming in right away with high energy and do whatever I can do to help the team on and off the court," Hart said. "I’m always ready to go in at any moment."

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Fighting Hawks libero Darian Chwialkowski serves in the second set of the UND Classic morning volleyball match versus the Green Bay Phoenix at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center on Saturday, September 11, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The rally wasn't wasn’t enough, though, and UND dropped the first set 25-20.

Attacking efficiency has been a concern for the Hawks. Coming into Saturday’s matches UND hit at a .110 clip while its opponents have been converting at a .212 rate. In UND's first two sets against UWGB, it hit .114 and .189.

“One thing we saw was different players play," Tiffin said. "That is credited to the depth that we have and the competition level that we have in practice. These players push each other to get better so you can have a day like today where Taylor Pribyl, who has essentially not played at all this year, comes in and hits .350 and does exactly what she has been asked to do.”

The second and third sets against Green Bay were much more contentious with Wahl coming up large again with three big blocks, leading a team total of six. Ahrens, who has led the Fighting Hawks offense this year, continued that role. Her 16 kills paced UND.

UND dropped the second set 25-21, but got things going in the third A service ace from Maddy Hornyak and timely kills from Pribyl were the main standout plays in an evenly distributed offense. Pribyl finished the match with 13 kills, second behind Ahrens.

The Fighting Hawks started their rally in the third set, winning it 25-23. Then, they won an lengthy fourth set 31-29, hitting .310 to force a decisive fifth set.

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“The confidence was a big thing with the hitters on our offense," Ahrens said. "They need to commit to every set they take and that might be nerve-wracking for other players, but I know they can do it. We just need to come in with that purpose right away."

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Green Bay outside hitter Alexandra Zakutney spikes the ball between UND's Ashlyn Olson, center, and Lexi Ahrens, right, in the first set of a UND Classic volleyball match at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center on Saturday, September 11, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

The fifth set also went back and forth, but eventually got away from UND. Green Bay won it 15-12 to hand the Fighting Hawks their seventh loss of the season.

Montana 3, UND 0

UND's hitting percentage dropped below .200 again in the first two sets against Montana as the Grizzlies rolled to 25-14 and 25-15 wins.

The Fighting Hawks made it close in the third set but lost it 26-24.

“We said a lot to each other today on not dwelling on the last play. We need to focus on the next play, we have no control over the last play,” said Hart, who racked up 11 digs against Montana. “You learn from it and then you move on.”

Digital Content Producer and Sports Reporter at the Grand Forks Herald since December of 2020. Maxwell can be contacted at mmarko@gfherald.com.
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