Sami Slaughter

South Dakota's Sami Slaughter attacks against the block of Omaha's Rylee Marshall and Sadie Limback during the Summit League Volleyball Championship match Saturday at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.

VERMILLION -- The University of South Dakota Volleyball team is going to the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four years.

The Coyotes entered the season as the defending champions and preseason favorites.

“We like that target on our back, and I think that’s why all those games during the regular season were so tough and we lost a couple close ones,” Senior Madison Jurgens said. “I think ultimately we set ourselves up really well. We like to be the team that everyone wants to beat and today it just happened to be Omaha was the team to beat.”

The Coyotes swept Omaha 25-23, 30-28, 25-13 to win the Summit League Championship Saturday afternoon inside the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion. Record-setting performances from Elizabeth Juhnke and Lolo Weideman guided the Coyotes in front of a crowd of 1,097 mostly Coyote fans.

“It’s huge, you can’t really put words or a value on it, but we’ve almost always played better at home,” USD head coach Leanne Williamson said. “I think everybody would say that so I don’t think I’m saying anything new but I think our fans are a part of the game. During my time here, they have learned the sport of volleyball and they appreciated the sport. I think they know how to make an impact on the game and they did that tonight.”

Juhnke tallied 24 kills in three sets for a new program record. Weideman tallied 23 digs in the three set match to set a new program record in the process.

Coming off a five-set thriller Friday night against In-state rival South Dakota State, The Coyotes fell behind early in set one, but didn’t lose faith.

Omaha built a five point 15-10 lead and grew that lead to six at 18-12, yet Williamson didn’t call a timeout. Her team scored three straight points to force Omaha to call timeout leading 18-15.

Out of the timeout, Omaha stretched the lead back out five, 20-15, yet Williamson didn’t waver, trusting in her squad. Moments later, the Mavericks called their second timeout of the set leading 21-19 as USD had momentum again.

After back-to-back errors from Omaha’s McKenna Ruch, the Coyotes had a 23-22 lead and a serve out-of-bounds gave USD a first set win hitting .469 with 18 kills.

The two sides traded points early in the second set, with neither side gaining an edge. The first timeout by either team was with USD leading 20-18 and Omaha responded by tying the set at 22 and USD called a timeout after a Ruch kill gave the Mavs a one point lead.

From there, the two sides would trade set point opportunities, and Juhnke hammered a cross-court shot that was ruled out initially, keeping the set alive. One player in particular convinced Williamson to challenge the ruling.

“All of them felt like it was in, but Claire Gerdes is one that I absolutely trust,” Williamson said. “When she tells me something like that, I absolutely listen to her.”

Williamson’s challenge was successful, giving Juhnke her 19th kill of the match and the Coyotes the second set.

“We all know Juhnke hits the ball hard, so that play develops very quickly,” Williamson said. “...I think it was huge, being able to finish it on that instead of having to maybe go back and forth and risk not coming out with that.”

The Coyotes took control from the first point of the third set and didn’t look back, winning their second straight championship.

Sami Slaughter added 15 kills on 30 attempts and didn’t commit an error. Slaughter was named to the all-tournament team, alongside Juhnke and Madison Jurgens.

“Sami had an outstanding night tonight, not that she played bad last night, but it wasn’t necessarily her potential and she made a decision today to be more herself again,” Williamson said. “She’s a big part of the success that we have.”

The Coyotes now prepare for the NCAA Tournament, where they are returning for a third time in four years. But for now, The Coyotes will collect their ring.

“This program means a lot to me,” Williamson said. “The people within it mean a lot to me, the administration, the fans, the support staff, these coaches that have been with me for a long time as well, it means the world.

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