IN BATTLE FOR BIG SKY SUPREMACY, VOLLEYBALL BEATS NORTH DAKOTA

IN BATTLE FOR BIG SKY SUPREMACY, VOLLEYBALL BEATS NORTH DAKOTA

Big Sky Conference standings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a battle of the Big Sky Conference's two unbeaten teams, it was Sacramento State that prevailed behind a strong defensive effort as the Hornets knocked off North Dakota, 3-2 (25-20, 24-26, 25-15, 22-25, 15-12), on Thursday evening at the Nest.

With the victory, Sacramento State (14-7, 5-0) is now the only team in the 12-member Big Sky with a perfect league record. The Hornets remain atop the Big Sky's South Division, and extended their home winning streak against conference opposition to 19 straight, a stretch which dates back to 2015.

North Dakota, which entered the match with a 19-2 overall record and 4-0 conference mark, saw its six-match winning streak come to an end. In fact, the Fighting Hawks had won 15 of their last 16 matches and are ranked 55th out of 334 Div. I programs according to the latest NCAA RPI report. Despite the loss, North Dakota still sits in a tie for first place with Idaho in the North Division.

The team with the best league record at the end of the regular season (regardless of division) will host this year's Big Sky Tournament on Nov. 16-18. Should the teams at the top of both divisions finish with the same record, there will be a head-to-head outcome tiebreaker and tonight marks the only time Sacramento State and North Dakota will face each other during the regular season.

The Hornets are now 5-0 in Big Sky for the first time since the 2007 season, and for just the third time since the program joined the league in 1996. The 2000 and 2007 squads also accomplished the feat.

Sacramento State was also able to defeat North Dakota inside the Nest for the first time since Oct. 29, 1988. Since that time, the Hornets had dropped each of the three meetings between the two teams in Sacramento. The Hornets also avenged a 3-2 loss (15-13 in the fifth set) to North Dakota in Grand Forks in the teams' only meeting a year ago.

Sacramento State finished with a season-high 108 digs to go along with 12.0 team blocks as North Dakota was limited to a .132 hitting percentage. That included Hornet outside hitter Shannon Boyle finishing with a career-high 35 digs, shattering her previous high by 13 digs. In fact, the 35 digs ties for the 10th best single-match mark in Sacramento State history. Libero Brigitte Murdock added 23 digs, Mikaela Nocetti tied her career high with 18 digs, and setter Kennedy Kurtz had 14 digs.

Nocetti also had a career-high 21 kills to notch her 13th double-double of the season. Boyle (13 kills, 35 digs) posted her Big Sky-leading 16th double-double and she has now recorded eight straight matches with double digits in digs. Kurtz tied her career high with seven kills to go along with 14 digs, 57 assists and a .778 hitting percentage (7-0-9).

In a game that featured the Big Sky's top two teams, it was fitting that tonight went to five sets. The back and forth fifth set featured eight ties and four lead changes. With the scored tied at 10-10, Sacramento State was able to finish on a 5-2 run. During the spurt, Kurtz, Boyle and Nocetti all had kills. Nocetti posted back-to-back kills at 13-12 and 14-12 to finally end a match that lasted two hours and 26 minutes. During that fifth set, Boyle had five kills and middle blockers Brie Gathright and Lana Brown both had a pair of blocks.

The middle blocker combination of Brown (13 kills, 6 blocks, .357 hit%) and Gathright (11 kills, 5 blocks, .345 hit%) was effective all evening. Gathright also added two aces after entering the match with one ace all season. Defensive specialist Skyler Takeda had nine digs and an ace, and she has now recorded at least one ace in six consecutive matches. Rightside hitter Sarah Davis chipped in four kills and three blocks.

Sacramento State held sizeable advantages over North Dakota in kills (69-56), hitting percentage (.174-.132), assists (66-52) and digs (108-98). The Fighting Hawks had 14.0 team blocks, led by Faith Dooley's 12 kills and 11 blocks. Also for UND, Jordan Vail had 10 kills and a .389 hitting percentage, and Ashley Brueggeman had a team-best 14 kills.

Tonight opened a season-long four match homestand that will see Sacramento State return to the Nest on Saturday for a 1 p.m. matinee against Northern Colorado. The Hornets conclude the homestand next week with matchups against Southern Utah on Thursday and Northern Arizona on Saturday.

NOTES -- Tonight was Cystinosis Awareness Night. Cystinosis is a rare metabolic disease that affects approximately 500 people in the United States (mostly children) where cystine accumulates in the cells of the body damaging numerous organs. Two children close to the program, siblings Jenna and Patrick, are battling the disease. Jenna served as an honorary captain and was introduced with the team prior to the match. Her brother, Patrick, was also in attendance. For more information or a way to help, please log onto Jenna & Patrick's Foundation of Hope website at www.jpfh.org.