The University of South Dakota volleyball team is turning heads with an impressive start to the Summit League Conference season.
As the team’s senior leader Kendall Kritenbrink puts it, they’re bringing the heat from every angle of the court.
“Nobody knows where to go or who to stop because every hitter is an offensive threat,” Kritenbrink said.
With two weekend wins at IUPUI and Fort Wayne, USD (11-6, 5-0) is undefeated in conference play and at the top of the Summit League.
USD head coach Leanne Williamson was not at the matches in Indiana after the birth of her twins, Jaxon and Logan. Instead, assistant coach Michelle Cole was in charge of the squad, but the coaching switch was not a distraction.
The Coyotes started the weekend with a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory over IUPUI. After seeing video of the IUPUI match, Williamson was proud of her team’s perseverance after trailing 2-1 sets.
“They weren’t willing to give up,” Williamson said.
USD opened the match up well, winning the first set 27-25 with a kill by sophomore outside hitter Audrey Reeg. IUPUI responded, winning the next two sets.
In the second set, IUPUI was able to hold off a late rally by USD. IUPUI led 20-14 before the Coyotes tied the set at 24-24. The Jaguars maintained composure and won the set 26-24.
The Jaguars led wire to wire in the third set, winning 25-19 and digging the Coyotes into a hole.
“We weren’t as sharp as we normally were,” Cole said about the third set. “The seniors really took it on themselves to be the leaders and stand up and say let’s go.”
One of those seniors was star hitter Kritenbrink.
“We kind of stuck to our guns and just stayed aggressive,” Kritenbrink said.
In the fourth set, USD won a back and forth battle 25-23. Eventually, Kritenbrink’s game-winning kill decided the fifth set, and USD emerged victorious 15-13.
The victory broke the curse for a USD team that has struggled to win against IUPUI.
“Getting that monkey off our back now is really important, especially with the conference tournament being there,” Williamson said.
Kritenbrink ended the match with 25 kills, while first-year setter Brittany Jessen added 55 assists.
USD continued on their strong run of form on Sunday when they swept Fort Wayne 3-0.
“We really just wanted to finish it in three and get out of there and get home,” Kritenbrink said.
USD won the first set 25-23 on a kill by Kritenbrink. USD came back from a 19-15 deficit in the second set, winning 25-21.
“The team wasn’t looking to get into another five-set battle,” Cole said.
When faced with the decision of a sprint and a marathon, Cole said the team chose the latter option.
USD finished the Mastodons with 25-21 third set victory, capped off by a kill from junior outside hitter Sydney Dimke.
In the contest, Kritenbrink led the Coyotes with 14 kills. Jessen dished out 37 assists.
“They have some lofty goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season,” Cole said.
Those goals include winning the Summit League conference tournament and making an appearance at the NCAA tournament.
USD has three matches in the next week. The Coyotes host Western Illinois Friday before traveling to Denver on Sunday. After the two weekend matches, USD hosts Iowa state October 14.
“Just continue on the aggressive mindset that we have every day in practice coming in, and focusing on the next team, and just not being satisfied with 5-0,” Kritenbrink said.
(Senior Kendall Kritenbrink serves the ball in the Coyote’s home game vs. North Dakota State University Sept. 26 in the DakotaDome. Anna Glenski / The Volante)