Sac State volleyball edges North Dakota to remain undefeated in Big Sky


Thomas Frey - The State Hornet

Sacramento State senior setter Kennedy Kurtz, middle, celebrates with teammates after a kill by senior outside hitter Shannon Boyle in set five against North Dakota at Colberg Court in the Nest on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. After defeating Portland State on Oct. 7, Sac State clinched its first Big Sky Conference regular season championship since 2007.

In a matchup of the only two unbeaten teams in the Big Sky Conference, Sacramento State took down North Dakota in five sets Thursday at Colberg Court.

Sacramento State (14-7, 5-0 Big Sky) lost in five sets a season ago to the Fighting Hawks. After falling 15-13 in the final set last year, the Hornets immediately wanted a rematch said junior outside hitter Mikaela Nocetti.

“That fifth set (last season) was heartbreaking,” Nocetti said. “This year, we were ready to play them for major revenge.”

Similar to last season, Thursday’s match went down to the wire in five (25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 22-25, 15-12) sets. Players on both sides gave up their bodies diving for balls and battled for each point as if the game was on the line. Several plays went back and forth for upwards of 30 seconds before a point was scored, and most of the time, when a play went that long, the Hornets came up with the point.

Perhaps the most crucial point came in game five with the Hornets up 2-1 in the first to 15 winner-take-all match.

With the ball on its way out of bounds, senior outside hitter Shannon Boyle methodically came out of nowhere and extended her arm in desperation to get a piece of the ball to keep the Hornets in the play. Sac State went on to win the point, and the crowd was on its feet cheering Boyle’s defense.

“That was the best save I’ve ever seen,” said Kennedy Kurtz, the Hornets senior setter. “She destroyed it tonight. She played amazing defense, and she got kills when we needed them. Her defense is just something else.”

Boyle also recorded a career-high 35 digs and seemed to play with a fire under her feet to win. In set five, Boyle was responsible for giving the Hornets the lead three different times with powerful shots the Fighting Hawks could not get their hands on.

“We’ve been preparing for this match all season,” Boyle said. “It feels really, really, really good, to say the least. We didn’t give up, and that’s what mattered.”

The Hornets started off the night down for nearly the entire first set before a kill by junior middle blocker Lana Brown grabbed a 17-16 lead. Sac State finished the come-from-behind win in game one with a Nocetti kill, her eighth of the set, to end it at 25-20.

After losing a heartbreaker in set two 26-24, the Hornets recovered and blew out the Fighting Hawks 25-15 on a game-winner from junior middle blocker Brie Gathright who finished with 11 kills.

In set four, Sac State led 21-20 before North Dakota (19-3, 4-1 Big Sky) stormed back and won 25-22 to set up the decisive fifth set.

Trailing 9-8, Boyle tied up the game to put the Hornets in position to take the lead. Brown, who finished with 13 kills, then had a dominating block on senior outside hitter Tamara Merseli to give Sac State the lead.

North Dakota tied it up on the next play before Kurtz juked out the defense and dumped the ball over the net to take the lead for good. Kurtz finished with 57 assists, 14 digs and seven kills.

“(Kurtz) did a good job of distributing the ball and moving it around,” said Mark Pryor, the Fighting Hawks head coach. “They did a good job of handling the pressure and made plays at the right time to finish the match. They absolutely deserved this win.”