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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 21 2013

Youthful Bison look to make NCAA volleyball tourney while starting six underclassmen

FARGO – North Dakota State has a few walls to climb if it wants to return to the NCAA volleyball tournament. But at least the Bison have a seat at the Summit League tournament.

NDSU, the No. 5 seed, takes on No. 4 Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in today’s first round in Indianapolis. Host Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis is the top seed and has a first-round bye.

If NDSU gets by the Mastodons, it will face IUPUI in the semifinals.

After a winless nonconference schedule, the Bison found six victories in Summit play including a home win against Fort Wayne. NDSU is 3-3 in its last six matches.

“Winning on the road is a tough thing to do in this league and that showed,” said Bison head coach Kari Thompson. “We’ve had times when we’ve been successful but when we’ve struggled, we tried to rely on one person.”

NDSU (6-21) will start the youngest team in NCAA Division I volleyball with five freshmen and sophomore outside hitter Jenni Fassbender, who leads the team in kills and is fifth in the Summit in that category.

Freshmen middle hitters Emily Miron and Emily Minnick saw their hitting percentages improve as the season went along and finished second and third, respectively, in kills.

NDSU reached the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2011 under Thompson, but that was also with a veteran team. The Bison did not make the Summit tourney last season.

“We’ve been talking about the excitement and how fun the tournament is,” said Thompson, who was the head coach in the last Summit tourney title. “We’ll rely on my experience and the coaches’ experience.”

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

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia