College volleyball: Bulldogs strike back at top-ranked Concordia

As part of Pack the Gym Night on Saturday, Minnesota Duluth volleyball players tossed T-shirts to the crowd before the Bulldogs' regular-season finale with top-ranked Concordia-St. Paul.

UMD volleyball
Julie Rainey (9) and Kate Lange (7) of Minnesota Duluth celebrate after scoring a point during a match against Concordia-St. Paul at Romano Gym in Duluth on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 16, 2013. (Clint Austin /

As part of Pack the Gym Night on Saturday, Minnesota Duluth volleyball players tossed T-shirts to the crowd before the Bulldogs' regular-season finale with top-ranked Concordia-St. Paul.

When UMD setter Ashley Hinsch reared back and let a shirt fly, it fluttered right into the lap of coach Jim Boos.

It was Hinsch's only bad set of the night.

Hinsch had 61 set assists, Kate Lange had 31 kills and Julie Rainey set UMD's all-time digs record as the third-ranked Bulldogs beat Concordia 25-23, 25-18, 21-25, 22-25, 15-11 in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match before 1,841 fans at Romano Gym. The win snapped the Golden Bears' 25-match winning streak.

"It was embarrassing to start off a match like that, but it kind of helped lighten the mood," Hinsch said. "Everyone played as a team and had fun. This is definitely one to remember."


For more reasons than one.

UMD trailed 22-20 in the first set before surging to the 25-23 win, sparked by a pair of Lange kills.

The second set was arguably UMD's best of the season. Leading 10-9, the Bulldogs went on a four-point run and never looked back, winning 25-18.

After that, the Bulldogs appeared headed for a sweep, basically an unheard of feat against the six-time defending national champions. UMD knew better.

"They are ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason, so we knew they'd come back," Lange said. "We just came out on a fire, and then had to battle through some things. It was a grind, but we finished it off. It was awesome to come out on top."

The contest was about as physical as volleyball gets.

Rainey and teammate Katie Ledwell were hurt in a collision, but they shook it off and stayed on the court. Later, Concordia's standout setter, Amanda Konetchy, was hurt after an altercation at the net with a UMD player, prompting somebody, presumably a family member, to start screaming at the officials. Again, Konetchy just shook it off.

UMD aimed to end the match in the third set after knotting it at 19, but Concordia regrouped for a 25-21 win. The fourth set was similar, with Concordia ramping up its defense and making fewer errors to win 25-22.


"It wasn't a matter of us not doing things well, but Concordia playing at a higher level," Boos said.

Rainey, just a junior, broke Cheryl Carlson's all-time digs record at the end of the fourth set, but it wouldn't have been as special if the Bulldogs lost. Rainey's 30 digs give her 1,710 for her career.

"Julie is going to put up a mark at UMD that isn't going to be broken for a long, long time," Hinsch said. "She's amazing."

Lange, meanwhile, is just 28 kills away from 2,000 for her career after having five in the deciding fifth set alone. UMD controlled it from the start, taking a commanding 14-8 lead. By that point, everybody in the building knew who was going to take the Bulldogs' final swings. When Lange hits a volleyball, it sounds like a cannon going off, and on her final swing, the ball bounced off a Concordia player and kept going, hitting the carpet along the back wall at Romano.

"You knew it wasn't going to be a changeup there," Boos said. "Fastball all the way."

Emily McDonough had 16 kills to lead the Golden Bears (27-2 overall, 19-1 NSIC), while Konetchy added 59 set assists.

Middle blockers Sydnie Mauch and Monica Turner had 13 and 11 kills, respectively, for the Bulldogs (28-2, 18-2). UMD will host its first postseason match since 2007 when the Bulldogs open NSIC tournament play on Wednesday.

"Our team didn't quit, but UMD has too many players who can throw it down, and we didn't play well enough at the net or defend well enough to stop them," Concordia coach Brady Starkey said. "UMD is one of the top teams in the country, if not the top team, so it's always a thrill to play them. That is what it's all about."


Hinsch is a different type of setter, leading the Bulldogs with four block assists while adding five timely kills. Boos had a heated discussion with his star setter in the fourth set, but she bounced back and was nearly perfect in the final.

"Ashley is still young, and this is the best place to learn," Boos said, surveying the court. "That's the classroom right there."

While setting volleyballs is easy for Hinsch, shucking shirts isn't her specialty.

"She set the wrong person, that's for sure," Boos said with laugh.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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