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SACRAMENTO -- Tournament MVP Faith Dooley had four kills in the fifth set, and a match-best 19 kills to go along with a .500 hitting percentage as North Dakota outlasted Sacramento State, 3-2 (25-19, 24-26, 18-25, 25-15, 15-10), at the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship match Saturday evening at the Nest.
In front of a near sellout crowd, the Fighting Hawks (30-7) overcame a 2-1 sets deficit, and will earn the Big Sky's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament appearance will be the second straight for the Fighting Hawks, who also won last year's Big Sky Tournament title.
Sacramento State, the Big Sky's regular season champion after finishing with a 15-1 league record, had its seven-game winning streak snapped. The Hornets advanced to their 12th Big Sky championship match after beating Northern Colorado (3-1) in the quarterfinals and Portland State (3-1) in the semifinals. Sacramento State's record dropped to 26-9 overall, and the team's 26-match home winning streak against conference competition came to a close. The Hornets hadn't lost to a conference foe inside the Nest since the 2014 season, and defeated North Dakota earlier this year at home in five sets. Sacramento State was seeking its 10th Big Sky Tournament title since joining the league in 1996.
With Sacramento State's NCAA Tournament hopes dashed, the Hornets will now turn their attention to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) which will be a 32-team postseason tournament that begins on Nov. 28. The NIVC, which will offer bids to teams that do not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, was originally played from 1989-95, and is making its return this season. Selections for the NIVC will take place on Nov. 26, and Sacramento State will likely get an invitation to the event. For more information on the NIVC, click here.
North Dakota advanced to the championship match by defeating Weber State in the quarterfinals and Idaho in the semifinals. The Fighting Hawks will find who and where they will play when NCAA Tournament selections are made on Sunday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
Sacramento State placed three players on the all-tournament team, including senior setter Kennedy Kurtz, senior outside hitter Shannon Boyle and junior outside hitter Mikaela Nocetti.
In today's match, North Dakota bettered the Hornets in nearly every statistical category, including kills (74-62), hitting percentage (.291-.198), assists (71-57), digs (104-88) and team blocks (14.0-11.0). After falling down 2-1 in sets, the Fighting Hawks hit .581 in the fourth set and .304 in the fifth. Sacramento State's only leads in those two frames were 1-0 in the fourth, and 2-1 in the fifth. With the score tied at 4-4 in the fifth set, North Dakota went on a 5-1 run to take a 9-5 lead. The Hornets clawed got back within, 13-10, of the UND lead, but kills from Dooley and Ashley Brueggeman put the match away.
North Dakota used its middle blockers effectively all evening as the combination of Dooley (19 kills, seven blocks, .500 hit%) and Jordan Vail (14 kills, six blocks, .565 hit%) combined for 33 kills, 13 blocks and a .527 hitting percentage.
For Sacramento State, middle blocker Lana Brown was impressive, finishing with 12 kills, nine blocks and a .385 hitting percentage. Nocetti had 17 kills and 12 digs, and Boyle finished with eight kills and 17 digs. Kurtz had six kills, 49 assists, 18 digs and two blocks, and rightside hitter Sarah Davis had 11 kills and six blocks.
Five Hornets had at least 12 digs, including libero Brigitte Murdock who finished with 17. Skyler Takeda added 17 digs and had two of Sacramento State's four aces. Brie Gathright had five kills and two blocks, and true freshman Cianna Andrews had three kills in three swings.
North Dakota setter Sydney Griffin had a huge match, finishing with a triple-double which consisted of 12 kills, 56 assists, 11 digs, five blocks and a massive .706 hitting percentage. Her 12 kills came without an error in 17 swings. Brueggeman added 17 kills and a .342 hitting percentage.