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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 29 2010

NCAA D-I volleyball tournament: Bison draw Gophers

Make that five women’s athletic teams now at North Dakota State to hear its name announced for an NCAA tournament in the last 2½ years.

The Bison volleyball team will play at the University of Minnesota in the first round Friday, a 64-team field that was revealed on ESPNews Sunday afternoon.

The theory heading into Division I sports was success would be hard to come by. The reality has been different.

“I don’t think people realize how difficult that is to do,” said head softball coach Darren Mueller.

The volleyball team made it for the second time in three years by winning the Summit League title two weeks ago.

They lost 3-0 to Minnesota in the 2008 NCAAs, but the hope for them is experience has taught them a few things. NDSU has seen the Gophers periodically in the last few years and won a set off of them in a spring tournament last year.

“We’ve seen them a ton now,” said Bison senior Brooke VandenBergh.

Also seeing NCAA team tournament play was the softball team, twice, and soccer two weeks ago. The so-called mid-major university that first became eligible in 2008-09 has had high major success.

“It is very amazing when you think about it,” said interim head volleyball coach Kari Thompson. “People say it’s really exciting to make an NCAA tournament. Here, it’s always exciting.”

The NDSU (20-10) vs. Minnesota (24-8) winner will play the winner of Creighton (20-11) and Iowa State (20-10) on Saturday. Game times at the Sports Pavilion were not yet set.

Volleyball started the NDSU NCAA run winning the Summit in 2008. Softball reached the NCAA tournament in 2009 and last spring and the soccer program qualified earlier this month.

“It has really exceeded our expectations,” said women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn. “Yet, we do understand and value winning. We have tremendous staff on all fronts.”

The prospects of making an NCAA tournament dwindle with the mid-majors, who usually only qualify the league champion. The Big Ten Conference qualified eight of its 11 teams for the NCAA, although a victory of sorts for the mid-majors could be found in Northern Iowa, which is hosting a first round game.

Mueller said NDSU volleyball will find the familiarity of repeating an NCAA berth helpful, especially in all the details leading up to the match.

Thompson, who was an assistant in 2008, agrees.

“I think in the first tournament, it was the bright lights, first time thing,” she said. “Now they have all that experience.”

The Bison return six players, including VandenBergh, who were on that team. She said it’s not as “nerve-wracking” playing the Big Ten and other major conference teams anymore.

When VandenBergh started at NDSU, the Bison were still in the Division I reclassification.

“So for all of our NCAA teams to go the NCAA is huge,” she said. “It has a lot to do with coaching and the kids that we recruit are all hard workers. It’s a great environment here.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia