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New-look UND volleyball team hoping to make strides in this weekend's UND Classic

SDSU's Macy Smith watches as UND's Jordan Vail blocks a shot during their match last season. UND won by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
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When UND volleyball coach Mark Pryor was assessing his serve receive through the opening four matches of the season, he put the Fighting Hawks on an interesting scale.

The always-quotable fifth-year head coach put UND's play somewhere ahead of family reunion volleyball but below varsity level.

"For us, it's all about our first contact," Pryor said.

The Hawks will try to continue to make strides when the program hosts the annual UND Classic, featuring opponents Eastern Washington, Western Carolina and Louisiana Tech.

UND plays EWU at noon Thursday, Western Carolina at 11:30 a.m. Friday and Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Hawks, who are replacing a good portion of last season's starters on a NCAA-tournament team, started the year 1-3 on a swing through Texas.

UND beat Wisconsin Green Bay but lost to Rice, Texas Tech and TCU.

"We have to play more against teams who will push us because there's so much unfamiliarity," Pryor said. "We have to grow, get better and then we'll be fine. But the only way we get better is playing teams that will push us."

Through four matches, UND has been led by UConn transfer Kayla Williams, who has a team-high 52 kills and a team-best .216 hitting percentage.

Jordan Vail (33 kills), Ashley Brueggeman (31 kills), Brynn Nieukirk (26 kills) and Lydia Rutten (20 kills) have been the Hawks' leaders at the net.

Vail and Brueggeman were key cogs a year ago, while Nieukirk is a freshman from Washington, Ill., and Rutten is a sophomore from New York Mills, Minn.

Rookie setter Roosa Rautio has handed out 141 assists so far.

UND's defensive leaders have been Williams (3.71 digs per set) and Alivia Fraase (3.71 digs per set).

"At this point in the season, we're not really looking at numbers," Pryor said. "I'm giving it the eye test. Am I seeing a team that I think can be competitive? The answer to that is yes."

Tom Miller

Miller has been with the Grand Forks Herald sports department since 2004. He's also a Grand Forks native and UND graduate. 

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