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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 21 2012

Western Illinois escapes with volleyball win against NDSU

FARGO – A Sept. 21 home opener is the way of the Division I volleyball world for North Dakota State. After a strong start Friday, the Bison played like they were still on the road.

Tougher nonconference competition did not necessarily mean a tougher home team against Western Illinois, which finished in the bottom of the Summit League last season. The Leathernecks put the Bison into an early 1-2 conference hole with its first-ever win in Fargo.

Moreover, WIU was the first league team other than Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne to win on NDSU’s floor.

“We knew we were the underdog from last year but this year is different,” said Western head coach April Hall. “We have a new atmosphere in the gym with a much higher level of training. We have the same players from last year, but they’re completely different players.”

NDSU won’t argue that. The Leathernecks were better in the digging and hitting departments to take a 19-25, 25-16, 25-15, 23-25, 15-8 victory before 1,173 fans at a Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse that is usually one of the harder places for a visitor to win in the Summit. Not on this day.

“What’s not a concern of mine right now?” said NDSU head coach Kari Thompson, when asked about her concerns. “We need to control the ball to get our fans involved.”

NDSU came into Friday with the worst overall record in the Summit League at 4-8, although nobody in the league played three high-major teams like Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Still, NDSU heads into its home match tonight against Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis with some questions to answer.

“It’s a long season but we have to start winning, or it’s going to be a really long season,” Thompson said.

If there were any hitting struggles in the first 12 matches of the season, it didn’t look like it in Set 1.

Those percentages that were in the .100s took a significant hike, particularly in the first set when the Bison hit .389 to establish control. The momentum didn’t last.

Sporadic NDSU mistakes early in Set 2 led to a convincing Leathernecks performance in each of the next two games. What once was a loud home crowd didn’t have much to cheer for about a span of over an hour.

But tied at 23 in Set 4, Megan Lambertson’s kill and a Leathernecks hitting error gave the Bison a narrow win and a restored roar heading into the decisive fifth set, which was all WIU.

“This is a legit team,” Hall said.

NDSU played without hitter Jenni Fassbender, who is sidelined with concussion symptoms.

WIU (kills-blocks-aces): Miller 15-2-0, Hosteng 11-2-1, Gibson 4-4-0, Fournier 17-1-1, Fetter 2-2-0, Kaloupek 0-0-1, B. Murphy 0-0-1, M. Murphy 0-0-1, Smith 12-1-0.

NDSU: Yager 4-0-0 (45 assists), Dombeck 4-0-0, Joki 7-3-0, Lambertson 21-2-1, Cammack 9-2-1, Whalen 11-1-0, Listebarger 0-0-0, Thurow 0-0-0, Henning 0-0-1 (23 digs), Riese 0-0-0.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia