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Eric Peterson, Published November 20 2010

Bison volleyball team tops Southern Utah, advances to Summit League championship match

Bring on IPFW.

Junior middle hitter Chrissy Knuth smacked 18 kills Friday at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, helping North Dakota State get the rematch it wanted.

Knuth’s performance sparked the Bison to a 25-16, 25-15, 20-25, 25-8 victory against Southern Utah in the Summit League volleyball tournament semifinals before 928 fans.

“I’m really happy with the effort of all our players,” said NDSU interim head coach Kari Thompson. “They came out strong in the first and second set and really determined and focused and really executed everything right.”

NDSU (19-10) plays top-seeded Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (21-10) at 7 tonight for the championship, a rematch of last year’s title match, which was won by the Mastodons. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

IPFW has won the past three meetings between the teams, including two victories during this regular season. The Mastodons ended NDSU’s 42-match Summit regular-season winning streak on Oct. 1. IPFW also swept the Bison in mid-October, the only time NDSU has been swept in Summit League play.

“I’m actually really excited to play them,” said Bison senior outside hitter Brooke VandenBergh, who had 10 kills Friday. “I’m kind of glad it was them. You kind of have a little different chip on your shoulder about that and it means a little bit more maybe.”

Knuth had a .531 hitting percentage against the Thunderbirds. Fellow Bison middle hitter Megan Lambertson added 12 kills, including a .391 hitting percentage.

“They have the best middles in the conference, hands down.” said Southern Utah coach Debby Baker, whose team is in its second season as a Division I program. “If you can’t stop their middles, you can’t stop North Dakota State.”

When the Bison got rolling Friday, they were hard to stop.

NDSU had a 10-0 run in the first set, an 11-1 surge in the second set and a 13-2 rally in the fourth set. Those surges proved too much for Southern Utah to overcome in each instance.

Knuth polished off the match with a kill that capped the fourth set.

“Things were just connecting with us and I was happy with the way we played,” Knuth said.

Baker was also impressed with the way the Bison played defense. VandenBergh led the Bison with 22 digs. NDSU finished with 90 digs, which was its second highest total this season in a four-set match.

“They were phenomenal tonight,” Baker said of the Bison. “They played great defense. The best I’ve seen them play all season.”

NDSU has won eight of its past nine matches.

SOUTHERN UTAH (kills-blocks-aces): Clark 3-1-0 (32 assists), Renfro 8-3-0, Ma’afala 5-0-0, Pelaez 12-1-0 (20 digs), Moore 1-0-0, Schofield 3-1-0, Youart 2-1-0, Jensen 0-0-1 (20 digs), Anderson 0-0-1, Lawerence 4-1-1.

NDSU: VandenBergh 10-2-1 (22 digs), Lopez 2-3-0 (44 assists), Knuth 18-3-1, Joki 7-0-0, Lambertson 12-6-0, Sheridan 4-3-0, McLaughlin 0-0-0 (15 digs).

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com