Big Sky Conference standings
SACRAMENTO -- Sacramento State's Shannon Boyle and Mikaela Nocetti both had 11 kills, and middles Lana Brown and Brie Gathright combined for 11 kills, seven blocks and a .458 hitting percentage as the Hornets swept past Big Sky Conference opponent Northern Colorado (28-26, 25-22, 25-17) on Saturday afternoon at the Nest.
With the victory, Sacramento State won its sixth straight and continues to lead the Big Sky's South Division with a 15-7 overall record and perfect 6-0 league mark. The Hornets are the lone team in the 12-member Big Sky with an undefeated league record and have now defeated four of their six conference opponents via three-set sweep. Not only has the team won six straight, but has also won 12 of the last 14 matches after beginning the season with a 3-5 record.
In addition, Sacramento State has won 20 consecutive home matches against Big Sky opposition. The streak began on Sept. 24, 2015, in a win over Southern Utah, and since that time, 18 of the 20 wins have come in three or four sets. Today, the Hornets were playing their second leg of a season-long four-game homestand which included a 3-2 win over North Dakota in the battle of the unbeaten conference teams two nights ago. The last two games of the homestand will come next week on Thursday vs. Southern Utah and Saturday against Northern Arizona.
Sacramento State is 6-0 in the Big Sky for just the second time since joining the league in 1996, and first time since the 2007 team accomplished the feat. That 2007 team began the conference season with an 8-0 record and would later win both the Big Sky's regular season and tournament titles, and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With the loss, Northern Colorado, which was selected to finish second in the Big Sky's preseason coaches poll, dropped to 9-10 overall and 2-4 in the conference. Sacramento State has now won four straight against the Bears, and is 9-4 all-time against UNC at the Nest. Overall, the Hornets are 13-13 against Northern Colorado.
Sacramento State hit .293 as a team in today's match, its third highest output of the season after finishing with 44 kills and just 10 errors in 116 swings. The Hornets also had seven aces, 55 digs and seven team blocks.
"Defensively, we played very well at times today," Sacramento State head coach Ruben Volta said. "Similar to Thursday's win against North Dakota, we made a lot of tough digs, won some long rallies and gained momentum.
"During the winning streak, we've done a lot of things well. There are times we serve well, there are days we play good defense, and we've attacked well at times so I think its a combination of everything. One thing our players have done very well this year, and it happened again today, is perform and execute at critical times during a match."
In the first frame, the Hornets had to save set points at 24-25 and 25-26 before eventually winning. With the Hornets, trailing, 25-26, the team got consecutive kills from Boyle followed by a Brown kill on set point to put things away. In the second set, Northern Colorado used a late run to draw within, 23-22, of the Hornet lead before back-to-back kills from Nocetti allowed Sacramento State to a take a 2-0 lead. The Hornets jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the third frame and were never seriously threatened.
Boyle had 11 kills and seven digs, and provided a scare when she slammed her knee hard into the press table after making a sprawling save of a ball late in the second set. That occurred with the Hornets leading, 21-16, and Boyle sat out the rest of the frame. However, she returned and played the entire third set. Nocetti finished with 11 kills, 10 digs and three blocks while notching her 14th double-double of the season.
Gathright had five kills, five blocks and a .500 hitting percentage (5-0-10) and fellow middle blocker Lana Brown had six kills, two blocks and a .429 hitting percentage (6-0-14). Gathright and Brown did not have an attack error in 24 combined swings. Kurtz finished with six kills, a .750 hitting percentage, 29 assists, two aces and six digs. In the process, the fourth-year co-captain raised her season hitting percentage to a team-high .363.
Defensively, libero Brigitte Murdock had a team-best 13 digs while Hannah Meadows had 11 digs and a career-high three aces. Rightside hitter Sarah Davis had four kills and two blocks, and Skyler Takeda added four digs.
Northern Colorado, which was limited to a .239 hitting percentage, was led by Kortney Lockey's 12 kills. Alex Kloehn had eight kills, three blocks and a .400 hitting percentage, and setter Daisy Schultz had five kills, 33 assists and a .714 hitting percentage.
Next week, Sacramento State's game on Thursday against Southern Utah will begin at 7 p.m. while the Hornets will play another matinee on Saturday at 1 p.m. against Northern Arizona.
NOTES -- With 11 more kills, Boyle now has 923 kills as she inches closer to the 1,000 kill milestone…Kurtz now has 4,835 career assists as she attempts to become just the fourth setter in school history with 5,000 assists. In addition, she moved into sixth all-time in the Big Sky in career assists.