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Eric Peterson, Published November 21 2010

Bison volleyball team gains NCAA tournament berth after rallying for Summit League championship win

Like it had done through adversity all season, the North Dakota State volleyball team rallied Saturday at Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse.

The Bison fended off three match points in the fourth set en route to a 20-25, 25-18, 22-25, 27-25, 15-10 comeback victory over Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne for the Summit League tournament championship before 951 fans.

The Bison (20-10) earned a berth to the NCAA Division I tournament. The selection show is scheduled for be aired at 2 p.m. next Sunday on ESPNU.

The Bison will be making their second NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons.

“I’ve never felt so good in my life,” said Bison senior libero Laura McLaughlin, who had a match-high and career-high 33 digs. “This feels so good that I can’t even believe it’s real yet.”

Like Saturday, NDSU has been resilient throughout this season.

The Bison thought they lost their starting setter for the year in mid-September after Jennifer Lopez suffered a lacerated liver. Lopez returned unexpectedly late in the regular season. They lost their head coach in early October when Erich Hinterstocker resigned. The team responded by winning nine of 10 matches, including Saturday, with Kari Thompson serving as interim head coach.

“We just use it to our benefit,” said junior middle hitter Chrissy Knuth, who had 17 kills.

“We just rose to the top and that’s what we wanted to do and we just wanted to show everyone that we can do it.”

The Bison earned match point Saturday on an IPFW net violation that closed out the fifth set and sparked a spirited on-court celebration.

“These kids leave me pretty speechless,” Thompson said. “I’m really proud of these girls, each and every one of them.”

NDSU had lost their past three meetings against IPFW, including last year’s Summit League tournament championship. The Mastodons beat the Bison twice during this regular season.

“We certainly would like a cut of the gate since we always come here and there is this great volleyball environment and then it always seems to go the distance,” said IPFW head coach Kelley Hartley Hutton, who was appreciative of the atmosphere. “I’m sure fans like that.”

IPFW was on the verge of winning the tournament with a 24-22 lead in the fourth set, up 2-1 in the match. However, a Brooke VandenBergh kill and Megan Lambertson-Nicole Sheridan block knotted the score at 24-24. The Mastodons took a 25-24 lead after a Taryn Parker kill for a third match point.

“I knew the Bison weren’t going to go away,” Hartley Hutton said. “I think we were a little to hoping that they were going to mess up.”

The Bison responded with three consecutive points to keep their season alive. Sophomore hitter Brynn Joki tipped down an overpass for set point, forcing a fifth set.

“That’s a kick in the shins,” Hartley Hutton said. “Then you try and rally the troops.”

The Bison used that momentum to race to a 10-5 lead in the fifth set en route to a 15-10 victory to clinch the match. IPFW scored its final five points on Bison errors.

“We actually did something special as a group,” McLaughlin said. “It feels pretty good.”

Hartley Hutton felt Lopez played a key role in the teams’ third meeting this season. Lopez didn’t play in the first two matches due to her injury. Lopez had 48 assists Saturday.

“Jenny Lopez, you don’t know where the ball is going,” Hartley Hutton said. “She keeps you guessing.”

IPFW (kills-blocks-aces): Lamberti 13-1-0, McGill 7-0-0 (31 digs), Hook 9-2-0, Parker 13-1-0, Steenhuysen 1-0-2 (57 assists), Schlindwein 21-3-1, Cunningham 0-0-0, Milligan 0-0-0.

NDSU: VandenBergh 11-1-1, Lopez 5-0-0 (48 assists), Knuth 17-2-0, Joki 16-7-2, Lambertson 7-13-0, Sheridan 4-6-0, Deyle 0-1-0, McLaughlin 0-0-0 (33 digs), Kissman 0-0-0.

All-tournament team

Ellyce Youngren, South Dakota State

Taryn Parker, IPFW

Chrissy Knuth, North Dakota State (MVP)

Cashaana Renfro, Southern Utah

Brooke VandenBergh, North Dakota State

Maya Schlindwein, IPFW

Lauren McLaughlin, North Dakota State

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

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