This weekend marks the last regular season road trip for the Minnesota State University volleyball team. On Friday, they will head to St. Cloud to take on the Huskies. After that game, they will travel further up north to face the second-overall ranked Bulldogs of Minnesota Duluth on Saturday.
The Mavericks are currently riding a four-game winning streak, including an upset over 13th ranked Northern State University last weekend.
“I think with each match, we’re gaining confidence and things are coming together,” Head coach Lori Rittenhouse-Wollmuth said about the progression of her team. “As a coach, if you had a choice, you’d rather have them come together at the end of the season. People are settling into their roles and figuring things out, so it’s been exciting over the past four to six matches to see the players really mature.”
The Mavericks enter this week with a 13-11 overall record and are 7-9 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. They are currently sitting at ninth place in the conference, so they are on the cusp of qualifying for the NSIC tournament. Rittenhouse-Wollmuth thinks they have a great chance at making the tournament.
“If we win out, I think that puts us in, but it’s not going to be an easy task. Duluth is a good opponent and there is nobody you can overlook in the NSIC,” said Rittenhouse-Wollmuth. “Based on the way we’ve been practicing and preparing, I think we’re pretty motivated to at least perform very strongly.”
MNSU is looking for their fifth-straight conference win on Friday, something they haven’t been able to do since 2011. Their opponent, St. Cloud, currently has an 8-17 overall and 3-13 conference record. They are on a six-match losing streak with their most recent loss coming from Sioux Falls, 3-0. However, as Rittenhouse-Wollmuth stated, the Mavericks cannot overlook anybody in the NSIC. The Mavericks can’t afford to overlook the Huskies at this point.
MNSU did play St. Cloud earlier this season, and came away with a 3-1 victory at home. The Huskies hold the lead in the all-time series 49-47-1. However, in the past ten seasons, the Mavericks have won fifteen of the last seventeen matches against them.
Minnesota State’s next opponent brings forth a tougher challenge. Duluth is currently second in the nation with a 22-2 overall and 14-2 conference record. In their most recent match, they swept Southwest Minnesota State.
The Mavericks also played Duluth earlier in the season, and Duluth barely escaped the Taylor Center with a 3-2 victory. The Bulldogs have the advantage in the all-time series 44-19-3, including winning the last three matches.
As a team, the Bulldogs rank third in the conference in hitting percentage with a .298 average. They also rank fourth in assists with 13.5 and kills with 14.3 per set. They are led by a group of young players, including sophomore Sarah Kelly, who leads the team in kills per set with 3.1. Another sophomore Erin Schindler leads the team with 4.6 digs per set, and redshirt freshman Emily Torve leads the team and is third in the conference in assists per set with 11.9.
According to coach Rittenhouse-Wollmuth, to upset the Bulldogs, they must be able to stop the runs.
“When you’re playing the top teams, you just can’t let them go on a three-point run. In the sets we dropped to Duluth, we let them go on those little runs and that can be the difference maker,” she said.
The first match is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at St. Cloud. The next match is at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Duluth.