Up For A Block

South Dakota's Maddie Widenfeld goes up for a block against UNLV's Macy Smith during their second round matchup in the NIVC on Friday at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.

VERMILLION — They might as well just win the title.

That was, according to senior Anne Rasmussen, the reaction from the South Dakota volleyball team when it learned it would be sent to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC).

It was the postseason event the Coyotes had in mind, but they immediately turned their attention toward winning the tournament.

“Once we got in the NIVC, we said, ‘Why not win the whole thing?’” Rasmussen said.

“So that’s been our attitude the past couple of games and will be our attitude going into next week.”

That mindset paid off again Friday afternoon, when the Coyotes swept UNLV 25-22, 25-19, 25-18 in the second round of the NIVC at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center.

South Dakota (29-2) is now three wins shy of that tournament championship.

The Coyotes will now wait to see who they play in the NIVC third round — they’ll host the winner between UT-Arlington and Sam Houston State next Tuesday.

Knowing that any setback at this point could mean the end of their careers, the USD seniors are undoubtedly playing with a sense of urgency.

“I don’t get too much in my head about, ‘This could be the last,’ but I feel like we have nothing to lose at this point,” senior Elizabeth Loschen said.

“We’ve had a great season and I know how good we are, it’s just instilling confidence in myself and in my teammates.”

Capturing that second win in the NIVC, though, required the Coyotes to find a way to neutralize or slow down Mariena Hayden of UNLV. She came into Friday’s match with 367 kills and 69 ace serves (which ranked seventh in the country).

“She’s got a very good serve, but the nice thing is, we’ve seen a couple people throughout the year that are actually similar, and we handled that extremely well,” Williamson said.

Hayden finished with 17 kills Friday, but they came on 43 swings and she was limited to once ace on 10 serves.

Conversely, the Coyotes were quite effective. They committed eight errors and had an attack percentage of .369, and dominated the net with seven team blocks.

Freshman Elizabeth Juhnke led USD with 16 kills, while junior Sami Slaughter and freshman Madison Harms both added eight kills. Loschen tacked on six kills, while sophomore Madison Jurgens notched 36 set assists.

Rasmussen, the Summit League’s Defensive Player of the Year, keyed the defensive attack with 12 digs — but only six digs over the final two sets, as UNLV started to go away from Rasmussen.

She, Loschen, Mehana Fonseca and Pamela Zuluaga are the four seniors on USD’s roster, and Rasmussen said they all play with an extra sense of urgency.

“That’s definitely something us seniors think about,” Rasmussen said.

“You have to keep your emotions in check, but I think that’s a little extra motivation; a little extra drive throughout this postseason run.”

There’s also a sense of doing everything they can to keep this season alive, according to their coach.

“I do think there’s that sense of urgency, and not even in the fact that we’re scared for the season to end, it’s, ‘I want to continue this season,’” Williamson said.

“They’re looking at it in the positive way, that we can continue to do something we haven’t done here.”

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