The North Dakota State Bison volleyball team hosted Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne for senior night last Friday at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. NDSU topped the Mastodons in five sets, 25-22, 21-25, 25-18, 25-27, 15-10.
The Herd honored Jessica Jorgensen, Brianna Rasmusson, Erika Gelzinyte and Mikaela Purnell, who were all playing their final game in front of the home fans. Gelzinyte, a native of Lithuania, had her mother Marina in attendance to watch her play in the United States for the first time.
The first set teetered back and forth, but the Bison ultimately prevailed. NDSU jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but IPFW were able to punch back. A Gelzinyte block put the Bison up 19-18, a lead they would not surrender. The set featured 11 ties and four lead changes. Rasmusson’s 10 assists in the first set led all players, and Abbi Klos’ nine digs were the best for the Bison.
Fort Wayne took complete control of the second set, only losing the lead once. The Mastodons had two streaks of four unanswered points, which ultimately sunk the Bison. NDSU briefly inched ahead 14-12, but Fort Wayne led the rest of the set. Klos continued to set the pace for the Bison, adding another nine digs to her total for the evening. Klos finished the night with 31 digs to lead the Bison.
The third set was a complete reversal of the second, as it was the Bison who dominated the frame. The Bison took the lead 6-5 and never relinquished it. NDSU led by as much as six points and never led by less than three points.
Rasmusson stepped up for the Bison in the third set, recording nine assists and eight digs. The setter and native of Fergus Falls, Minnesota was emotional throughout the night and clearly wanted to go out on top.
“I think this place is definitely a special place to play,” Rasmusson said. “I think knowing that this was our last one, we really wanted to give it our all and really just appreciate the fans. It’s the best in the Summit League for sure.”
NDSU dominated the fourth set, opening the scoring and twice holding a six point lead, but the Mastodons struck late to steal the set. Leading 15-9 and 17-11, it appeared the Herd would take the set and the match with Rasmusson stepping up to serve. However, IPFW scored the final three points to take the set 27-25.
After squandering a chance to seal the victory in the fourth set, the Bison took no chances in the fifth. Purnell’s service catapulted the Bison to a 5-0 lead. The Herd eventually took the set 15-10, holding the lead the entire way. Jorgensen and Rasmusson teamed up for the final block of the match, turning away Sydney Boerst at the net.
Head coach Jennifer Lopez believed that the 1,016 supporters who packed the Fieldhouse made the difference for NDSU in the last set.
“Sometimes it’s hard (to bounce back),” Lopez said. “I think our crowd did a really good job of giving us the energy that we needed to continue forward. You want to get it done early. You want to try to finish some of those sets early, and that’s something we’ll continue to try to do. To be able to finish it off and battle back in the fifth set says a lot about who we are as a team and what we’re trying to do.”
Lopez indicated that, in addition to paying tribute to the seniors, competing at home for the last time was the biggest motivation for the Herd entering the contest. The recently promoted coach’s pregame message was simple:
“Enjoy the moment. You only get so many opportunities, and for them, for it to be their last time here, it’s a big deal. I’m really happy with how we came out and how we performed.”
Each of the four seniors contributed critical performances in different aspects of the game to deliver the victory. Middle hitter Jorgensen posted a career-best 16 kills and a hitting percentage of .316. Gelzinyte chipped in 11 kills, including three and a service ace in the decisive third set. Purnell’s 19 digs moved her to second all time in program history in the category. Rasmusson ended the night narrowly missing a ‘triple-double’ with 39 assists, 24 digs and nine kills.
“Those four are a great group of girls,” Lopez remarked. “They’ve taken on a lot. They’ve gone through a lot of adversity. They have set the tone, and they have created the culture that we need for this program in order to continue moving forward. I’m very thankful for what they’ve given and what they’ve done for us.”
The triumph moved the Bison to 16-8 on the season and 7-5 in conference. NDSU is fourth in the conference with two more regular season games to play, at Western Illinois and Omaha, after which they’ll play in the Summit League Tournament in Denver, Colorado.