VERMILLION — A 22-game win streak was capped off with the first outright regular season title in program history on senior day.
You could say it was a monumental evening at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center for the South Dakota volleyball program.
But that wouldn’t do it justice.
“I am so thankful to be a part of it (the program),” senior Anne Rasmussen said after her last match on Abbott Court. “It’s a culture that’s been building for years. This is something that started way before I came here so to be able to be a part of this and get these many fans out and join games has been incredible.”
The Coyotes swept the North Dakota State Bison by scores of 25-22, 25-18, 28-26 in front of the second highest attended game in program history.
“Happiness is a big part of it right now,” Coyotes head coach Leanne Williamson expressed. “Not only to be a part of this university and the community but I’m proud of the team. They battled through things all year they battled through tough situations, they battled through not playing their best sometimes and still finding ways to win. I think tonight’s senior night was an exciting time and it’s a way to honor our players.”
The Coyotes (25-1, 14-0) trailed the Bison (11-14, 6-7) by a score of 19-13 in the first set. Then, USD got into the groove it has all season.
Sami Slaughter and Elizabeth Juhnke spearheaded a 12-3 run to end the set and change the momentum of the match.
“I think it (the run) just propelled us forward we knew that wasn’t our standard,” Rasmussen, who had 13 digs said. “We knew we could play at a higher level, and we started to pass the ball really well and then our offense executed amazingly.”
In the second set, the Coyotes held the energy and drastically improved their kill percentage from the first set – .154 and 15 kills, to .368 and 18 kills.
USD found themselves in a familiar predicament – trailing mid set. Trailing 16-11, the Coyotes rallied off a 16-10 clip to crown themselves champions.
“The crowd definitely helped (the rally),” Rasmussen said. “You can hear them loud and clear when they were serving on those moments. But, that kind of propelled us to really dig deep and make a defensive play and then get a big attack on the back end.”
Slaughter and Juhnke combined for 37 kills in the contest, while Slaughter had an impressive .600 hitting percentage.
With the conference championship, USD will host the 2020 Summit League tournament. Although Williamson is focused on this year, she noted how exciting that will be.
“That thought has gone through my mind and I’m very excited,” she added. “To be able to play in front of these fans means more than anything. I’d love to see as many people, if not more, at a conference championship next year, hopefully. But to be able to do it in front of our home fans and stay in our own beds and have our locker room makes a world of difference.”
She also added how proud she was of her four seniors: Rasmussen, Mehana Fonseca, Pamela Zuluaga and Elizabeth Loschen.
“They’re a part of the conference championship in 2016 and of going to the NCAA tournament for the first-time last year,” Williamson explained. “And now they’re part of history – winning the outright championship this year. So, and this story is far from over. We’ve got two more games and there’s more that we can accomplish.”
The Coyotes will celebrate the evening, but make no mistake, Williamson will have her squad ready to roll. USD embarks on a two-game road swing to end the regular season against Western Illinois on Nov. 15 and Purdue-Fort Wayne on Nov. 17.
“One of the goals expectations at the beginning of the year was to go undefeated, and we are close,” she said. “We have to continue to think about that one and our mentality, but we if we take care of business. I think that we can do that I think we can do something that this team has never done before.