Big Sky Tournament Central
GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- It wasn't easy, but Sacramento State was able to win its Big Sky Tournament quarterfinal matchup over Eastern Washington, 3-2 (25-16, 18-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-8), on Thursday morning at the Sioux Center.
The Hornets, who are the No. 2 seed at the eight-team tournament, advance to the semifinals tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. PST where they will take on No. 3 seed Northern Arizona. NAU advanced to tomorrow's semifinal after knocking off No. 6 Portland State today. Eastern Washington (13-13), which is the No. 7 seed, is eliminated from the tournament.
In the process, Sacramento State (20-11) also won its ninth match in a row, secured its second straight 20-win season, and improved to 22-6 all-time at the Big Sky Tournament. The Hornets, who have won nine Big Sky Tournament titles since joining the league in 1996, need just two more victories to secure their first tournament championship since 2007. The winner of the Big Sky Tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Hornets' nine-match winning streak is the program's second longest in nine years. Despite today's 3-2 win, Sacramento State has dropped just five sets during the winning streak. The Hornets and Northern Arizona split the season series with each team posting three-set sweeps on its home floor. It was Sacramento State (13-3) that won the Big Sky's South Division, finishing one game ahead of Northern Arizona (12-4).
The other two quarterfinal matchups will take place later today. For complete tournament information, including schedule, bracket, live video and stat links, and more, go to the Big Sky Tournament home page by clicking here.
The Hornets swept Eastern Washington in the teams' only regular season meeting, but today's match was much closer. Both teams didn't hit particularly well (SAC .181, EWU .165) and the Eagles had more kills (58-57) and blocks (11.0-4.0), but Sacramento State had 87 digs and took advantage of 14 Eastern Washington service errors.
The Eagles won the first two points of the fifth set, but Sacramento State closed on a 15-6 run to win and advance. In that fifth set, the Hornets had 12 digs and 2.0 blocks while limiting the Eagles to a -.130. In fact, Eastern Washington had four kills with seven errors in 23 attacks. Meanwhile Sacramento State had seven kills in the set, including three from Mikaela Nocetti and two from Shannon Boyle.
"We played tense in the fourth set, but I really liked our energy and how hard we played in the fifth," Sacramento State head coach Ruben Volta said. "Obviously, that was a huge set and our defense was outstanding and it really led to a nice offensive attack as well. We had some nerves to work through today, and we were able to get the win against a good Eastern Washington team."
Sacramento State, the nation's eighth best team in terms of digs per set, tacked on 87 more digs today. That included five Hornets finishing in double-figure digs, including Boyle, who had a career-high tying 21 digs to go along with 14 kills. Rightside hitter Madeline Cannon easily surpassed her previous career high of nine digs with 14 digs today while also adding 13 kills.
Nocetti and 16 kills and 15 digs, and those 16 kills were one shy of a career best. Senior Lexie Skalbeck, who was named Big Sky Libero of the Year yesterday, finished with 18 digs and setter Kennedy Kurtz had four kills, 45 assists, 10 digs and two blocks. It marked the fifth straight match with over 40 assists for Kurtz.
Middle blocker Brie Gathright had six kills and three blocks, and fellow middle Courtney Dietrich had three kills, four digs and a block. Sacramento State finished with four aces, including one each from Nocetti, Cannon, Skalbeck and Skyler Takeda.
For Eastern Washington, it was Ashley Seiler who finished with 20 kills, but was limited to a .164 hitting percentage. Ka'iulani Ahuna added 13 kills and 10 digs and Chloe Weber had 10 kills, six blocks and a .300 hitting percentage. Libero Ashlee Vaoifi led all players with 28 digs. Five of the Eagles' 14 service errors came from Seiler.
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