The Bison volleyball team looked great in their first home match of the season, finishing off the Western Carolina Catamounts in four sets (25-12, 25-19, 22-25, 27-25).
North Dakota State returned home following a busy and demanding weekend at the Diet Coke Classic in Minneapolis. The Bison lost all three games against quality competition, including a three-set loss to No. 3 Minnesota. Upon returning to Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, the Bison looked as energetic as ever in the first set.
After the Bison and Catamounts split the first four points 2-2, the Bison went on a gargantuan 17-1 run in which Western Carolina registered no kills. The Bison won the set 25-12 behind seven kills from senior outside hitter McKenzie Burke and a team .314 hitting percentage. The Cats were held to an abysmal -.091 hitting percentage in the first set.
The Cats put together a more combined effort in the second set, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Bison from taking the set 25-19. Western Carolina jumped ahead early with a 5-2 start, but the Bison were quick to respond with a 7-1 run of their own. During the run, Kaylee Hanger delivered back-to-back aces and Abbi Klos added one of her own.
The Cats struck back with a couple aces of their own. The two teams battled each other for the lead until the Bison broke the tie at 16-16 with six unanswered points, including another pair of aces from Hanger, and never looked back. The Bison had excellent attacking efficiency in the second set with a .355 hitting percentage.
Western Carolina delayed the Bison’s home opening win by taking the third set 25-22. NDSU surrendered a seven-point run early and never recovered. Despite getting within one, the Catamounts held off the charge to force a fourth set.
The third was the worst hitting set for the Bison, but the team never got tired. “Never, it’s no excuse to not go out and play your best,” Burke said. “You worry about the hurt and the pain after the fact.”
And the pain had to wait until the end of the fourth set. The set was a battle with nine ties and six lead changes. Down 15-11, Bison head coach Jennifer Lopez called a timeout and the team responded. The Bison scored four straight to even the score, and the two teams battled down to the wire. Western Carolina held the lead 25-24 when Burke saved the set with a kill. With NDSU serving for the game, Alexis Bachmeier registered two kills in a row to win the match.
Western Carolina finished the day with a .156 attacking percentage, while the Bison had a .268, their highest in any match this season. Burke paced all players with 24 kills and a 0.392 attacking percentage, while Klos led the team in digs with 19. NDSU’s offense ran through Kalli Hegerle, who registered 52 of the team’s 64 assists.
NDSU travels to Muncie, Indiana for a three-game weekend, and Lopez thinks the best thing the team can do to prepare is rest.
“We’re going to be facing another three tough opponents,” Lopez said. “We have to put ourselves in the best physical condition to compete.”
But a trip home is always a plus for the team. “The Bunker is the place to be. There’s no words to describe it,” Bachmeier said.
The Bison return to Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse Friday, Sept. 21 to open the Summit League conference schedule against South Dakota.