VERMILLION -- The Denver University volleyball team has won five of the last seven regular season conference titles, but fell to the third seed behind Omaha and South Dakota this season, forcing them to play in the first round of the Summit League Tournament for the first time in school history.
Denver’s first round opponent was the South Dakota State Jackrabbits inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion Thursday night. The Jacks hadn’t seen the conference tournament since 2010. The result was a five set thriller sending South Dakota State to the semifinals against South Dakota.
“I give all the credit to our players,” SDSU head coach Dan Georgalas said. “...There’s a culture of success at SDSU and ever since I’ve been in Brookings, this team has believed in me, invested in ourselves and we’ve never doubted ourselves.”
SDSU won on set scores of 19-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-23, 15-10.
The Jackrabbits jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fifth set, forcing Denver into calling its first timeout. Out of the timeout, the Jacks scored two more points, forcing Denver to burn its last timeout.
“The message was to keep our composure during the game and keep our side the way it has been,” senior Crystal Burk said. “Let’s focus on us and the game will be ours, making sure we keep our energy low and keep focus on the game. It wasn’t just going to be given to us.”
The Pioneers made a push late in the set, getting back within four points, but the Jacks fought off the run to win the fifth set 15-10.
Denver took control in the first set handily, building a six point advantage 19-13 and not looking back to win 25-19.
SDSU opened the second set with a 5-0 run to force a Denver timeout. Denver recovered from the slow start in the set to tie the set at 16 before SDSU was able to rally for a 24-20 lead. After Denver got a 3-0 rally, Crystal Burk hammered home a kill to even the match at one.
The third set went back and forth, with neither side building much more than a three point advantage. A late run for the Pioneers put Denver up 2-1.
“A lot of us know stories where it’s tough to beat a team three times in one season and that was the case tonight against Denver,” Georgalas said. “We’ve never even taken a set off of them so far in my tenure here (at SDSU). So I think once you stand your ground and show that you’re not going to be knocked down, sometimes those are the toughest people to beat.”
The Jacks and Pioneers traded blows again in the fifth, but this time the Jacks were the ones with the late push to force a decisive fifth set in Vermillion.
The fifth set fell the Jacks way and set up a date with in-state rival USD on the Coyotes home court Friday night.
“We’ve been talking about a day two philosophy all week,” Georgalas said. “We packed for three nights, our bags are full, we booked a two night stay at the hotel so that we could be here long. This has been the plan, we all trust in the process and that’s so big in our locker room and our team culture.”
Chloe Stitt tallied 12 kills and 12 digs for the Jacks. Burk added 11 kills and 16 digs. Tatum Pickar tallied 17 digs and Carley Wedel 12. Wedel pitched in 28 assists and Jasmine Weidemann 13.
Freshman Hailey Green tallied 23 kills to pace the Pioneers. Tina Boe added 13 kills and Lydia Bartalo 11 kills and 23 digs. Gianna Bartalo added 15 digs and Lorrin Poulter and Ellie Anderson 10 apiece. Anderson also tallied 32 assists and Poulter 26.
The Jackrabbits take on the Coyotes at 7 p.m. inside the SCSC Friday (today).
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