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UND wins Big Sky tournament, qualifies for NCAA Tournament

Pardon the pun, but the UND volleyball team found a higher gear when coach Mark Pryor had the "Faith" to make a positional change. That's Faith, as in Faith Dooley, the tallest Fighting Hawk at 6-foot-3. Pryor moved her from outside hitter to mid...

UND women volleyball players celebrate their Big Sky tournament championship Saturday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
UND women volleyball players celebrate their Big Sky tournament championship Saturday at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Pardon the pun, but the UND volleyball team found a higher gear when coach Mark Pryor had the "Faith" to make a positional change.

That's Faith, as in Faith Dooley, the tallest Fighting Hawk at 6-foot-3. Pryor moved her from outside hitter to middle hitter and the results haven't been the same team since.

"We made the change 17 matches ago and we've lost only one match since," Pryor said about his team, which has a 26-9 record. "It was not only a good move for Faith, but our other players became more comfortable, too."

The season's high point came Saturday at The Betty as UND swamped Northern Arizona 25-22, 25-20 and 25-15 in the Big Sky Conference tournament championship match, securing a position in the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a Division I program. The Hawks had 3-0 sweeps of their three opponents in the tournament, with Dooley being named the tournament's MVP.

Dooley's kills and blocks Saturday added up to 12.5 points for UND, while Tamara Merseli had 11, Ashley Brueggeman 10.5, Sydney Griffin with nine and Chelsea Moser with eight. The balance was typical of the team's late-season surge.

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"I've played in the middle my whole life, so it's kind of my home," Dooley said. "I feel like I have more energy in the middle, too. In the middle, you do more blocking and as an outside hitter you do more swinging."

Dooley's game also has more finesse in her arsenal, looking for openings on the floor rather than trying to power through blocks at the net. "I like placing it and like to move the ball around," she added.

Dooley's switch isn't the only reason for the late-season spurt. Joining Dooley on the six-player all-tournament team were Merseli, Moser and setter Griffin, also steady performers. Northern Arizona's lone member on the team was Lauren Jacobsen, who had 14 kills.

It was pretty much a stress-free night for the Hawks, as they took permanent leads at 13-12 in the first set, 14-13 in the second and 5-4 in the third.

"We have been playing so well as a team," said Moser, the team's lone senior. "If someone makes a mistake, we just keep going. We completely believe in each other."

Pryor gave credit to the crowd of 1,512. "It's possibly the biggest crowd in my three years here and they had a lot to do with the win," he said. "We had a little stress early, but we stayed calm and confident and the crowd helped."

Northern Arizona coach Ken Murphy said his Lumberjacks had tough going with UND's momentum from its late-season surge and the home-court environment of an involved crowd.

"UND got hot at the right time," Murphy said. "The last few weeks, they've played at a whole different level than before. That high level came in all phases.

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"We were also up against a great championship environment."

Next Sunday, UND will find out who and where it will play in NCAA Tournament.

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