Big Sky Conference standings
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State knocked off Idaho State tonight at home, 3-1 (25-23, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21), and in the process, clinched the Big Sky Conference South Division championship and earned the No. 2 seed for next week's conference tournament.
The Hornets won their seventh straight match and improved to 18-11 overall and 12-3 in the Big Sky. With just one regular season match remaining on the schedule - home on Saturday vs. Weber State at 1 p.m. - Sacramento State has already earned the No. 2 seed for the eight-team Big Sky Tournament (Nov. 17-19) which will take place in either Grand Forks, N.D., or Greeley, Colo.
The Hornets needed North Dakota to lose twice this week to have a shot at hosting the tournament, but the Fighting Hawks snapped Northern Arizona's 25-match home winning streak tonight. North Dakota will host Northern Colorado on Saturday, and the winner of that match will host the conference tournament. Regardless of Saturday afternoon's outcome against Weber State, the Hornets will be the No. 2 seed by virtue of clinching the South Division title, and will take on No. 7 Eastern Washington in the first round of the tournament on Thursday, Nov. 17. Eastern Washington clinched the 7 seed after its four-set home win over Montana State tonight.
Should the Hornets win on Saturday, and Northern Colorado (12-3) defeat North Dakota (13-2), all three teams would claim the Big Sky's regular season championship but the Bears would win the tiebreaker and earn the right to host. Should North Dakota win, the Fighting Hawks would win the Big Sky's regular season title outright and host the league's postseason event. The Hornets were just two points away from being in the driver's seat to host the Big Sky Tournament, but lost at North Dakota earlier this year in Grand Forks, 3-2 (15-13 in the 5th set). That Northern Colorado-North Dakota matchup will take place on Saturday at 9 a.m. PST.
The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament, a place the Hornets are looking to return for the first time since the 2007 season. In addition, should the Hornets earn a share of the regular season championship, it would mark the program's first Big Sky title since 2007.
Sacramento State's seven-match winning streak is tied for the longest active streak in the league along with North Dakota. In addition, the Hornets are now 7-0 at home against Big Sky opposition and have won 15 straight against Big Sky foes at Colberg Court dating back to last season. During that 15-match winning streak, Sacramento State has dropped a total of seven sets.
Idaho State had won three straight and 10 of its last 11 matches prior to tonight's loss. The Bengals, who will be the No. 5 seed at the Big Sky Tournament, are now 16-12 overall and 10-5 in league. Coupled with the Hornets' five-set win earlier this year in Pocatello, Sacramento State has swept a season series from Idaho State for the first time since the 2007 season.
Tonight's match was a grinder, as the Hornets won by four points or less in all three of their victorious sets. In fact, Idaho State had more kills (61-56), assists (57-49), aces (7-4) and digs (97-85) than Sacramento State, but the Hornets limited the Bengals to a .189 hitting percentage. That included .205 or less in each of the Hornets' victorious sets. Sacramento State hit .230 and outblocked the Bengals, 10-7.
Perhaps the biggest stretch of the evening came late in the first set, when the Hornets erased a 22-19 deficit by closing the frame on a 6-1 run to win, 25-23. During the spurt, Sacramento State middle blocker Courtney Dietrich had two blocks and a kill, including a solo stuff on set point. Dietrich was impressive all evening, finishing with 11 kills (two shy of her career high) to go along with match highs in hitting percentage (.500) and blocks (5).
Although the Hornets' No. 2 seed is set, Sacramento State will play a Weber State team that is fighting to clinch the eighth and final seed into the Big Sky Tournament. Prior to that match, Hornet seniors Madeline Cannon, Lexie Skalbeck, Morgan Stanley and Dietrich will be honored for their contributions to the program. Dietrich, Skalbeck and Stanley are fourth-year seniors while Cannon is a third-year senior.
"I was very pleased with our effort in the first two sets because Idaho State was playing really well. Offensively, they are a very good team and they were playing well defensively, but we found a way to win," Sacramento State head coach Ruben Volta said. "Obviously, we would have liked to host the conference tournament but winning the division is certainly something to be proud of. The South is a very tough division with Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Portland State all being strong teams.
"We clinched the No. 2 seed, but we have a lot to play for on Saturday. We'd like to send our seniors out with a win in the final home match of their careers, we'd like to stay undefeated at home in the Big Sky, and we want to carry momentum into the conference tournament."
In tonight's victory, Sacramento State had four players finish with double figures in kills, comprised of Dietrich (11 kills, 5 blocks), Shannon Boyle (14 kills, 15 digs, 2 blocks), Mikaela Nocetti (13 kills, 11 digs, 2 aces) and Cannon (11 kills, 5 digs, 2 blocks). Dietrich's 11 kills came without an error in 22 swings, and two of her five blocks were solos.
Skalbeck had 30 digs, four shy of her career high, and continues to lead the Big Sky with an overall average of 5.18 digs per set and an average of 5.93 per set against Big Sky opposition. Setter Kennedy Kurtz finished with 43 assists, an ace and 11 digs, and Brigitte Murdock added nine digs. Skyler Takeda notched one ace, marking the fifth straight match with at least one ace. Middle blocker Brie Gathright finished with five kills and four blocks.
For Idaho State, outside hitter Chloe Hirst was impressive all evening, finishing with 25 kills, 18 digs and a .288 hitting percentage. Bengal libero Haylie Keck had a match-high 33 digs.
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