Bouncing Back

The Jacks hope to gain momentum in conference play after win over defending champions.

Evan Patzwald, Co-Sports Editor (He/Him)

Fresh off a five-set win over the defending Summit League champion Omaha Mavericks Saturday afternoon, the Jackrabbit volleyball team faces two unbeaten conference opponents this week.

South Dakota State (7-7, 1-1) travels to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to play UND (5-8, 2-0) at 7 p.m. North Dakota already has more wins (5) in the first half of this season than they did the last two seasons combined (3). 

First-year head coach Jesse Tupac has already made improvements to the program as seen by their record. It’s a team that should not be overlooked. Prior to coming to Grand Forks, Tupac was the top assistant coach at New Mexico for two seasons. 

Sophomore Ashlyn Olson is leading UND in kills with 110 and is third on the team in blocks with 22. Junior Elizabeth Norris is second in kills (95), third in digs (108), first in assists (222) and has eight service aces on the year. 

After their game in Grand Forks, the Jackrabbits will return home to Frost Arena for a home matchup with the South Dakota Coyotes at 6 p.m. Saturday.

The Coyotes (13-1, 2-0) were picked to finish second in the Summit League, and the Jackrabbits are eager to get another shot at them after nearly upsetting them last season in the semifinal of the Summit League Tournament. That game went five sets, and the fifth set score was 18-16 in favor of the Coyotes.

“They’ve had a great start to their season,” coach Dan Georgalas said. “We’re excited to get our matchup early with them in the conference slate at home. I’m hoping a lot of fans come from the football game to join us at 6 o’clock.”

Elizabeth Juhnke and Madison Harms were each named to the preseason Summit League Players to Watch list. Juhnke is pacing the Coyotes in kills with 288, and Harms follows with 142. 

For the Jackrabbits, they are coming off a 1-1 week where they fell to Denver three sets to one Thursday but turned it around and beat Omaha in five sets, 3-2. 

Against the Pioneers, the Jacks fell behind early, losing each of the first two sets before turning it around and winning the third set and ultimately losing the fourth. Crystal Burk led the Jacks with 14 digs, 13 kills and two service aces. Ella Thompson had nine kills, four blocks and two ace serves

Saturday was a different story. After losing the first set 22-25, SDSU came back and won the second and third sets, 25-22 and 25-16 respectively. The Mavericks and Jacks had gone back-and-forth in the fourth before Omaha ultimately sent it to a fifth. SDSU trailed 7-10 in the fifth but outscored Omaha 8-2 the rest of the way to seal the win for the Jacks. 

Georgalas said that everyone was disappointed with how his team performed against Denver but was proud at the consistency they’ve shown when handling adversity.

“We saw a totally different side of our program on Saturday, and to beat the defending champions at home so early in Summit League play, it gives us a lot of confidence going through the rest of the schedule,” Georgalas said. 

Burk had 24 kills in the game while freshman Masa Scheierman stepped up late in the game and had 12 kills, including a service ace in their 8-2 run in the fifth set. They had a season-high 10 aces in the match. 

“Masa probably had the best game of her career,” Georgalas said. “She had some big digs, one of her best games defensively, and some big points in the fifth set.”

Out of the Jacks’ 14 games so far this season, six of those have gone to five sets. Burk said that really shows the identity of theiteam.

“When you are competing against Jackrabbit volleyball, you will see a team that shows grit, and that’s what we’re showing on the court,” Burk said. “We will never give a team an easy game, and that’s why when you see all these five sets, it’s us putting other teams to the test.”