College volleyball: 'Dogs have their day, take down No. 1-ranked Northern State

Minnesota Duluth volleyball coach Jim Boos is about as stoic as they come, so his reaction to the end of the Bulldogs' match with top-ranked Northern State on Saturday afternoon was telling.

Minnesota Duluth volleyball coach Jim Boos is about as stoic as they come, so his reaction to the end of the Bulldogs' match with top-ranked Northern State on Saturday afternoon was telling.

When UMD's Abby Thor and Hanna Meyer delivered a monster block, securing the ninth-ranked Bulldogs' 23-25, 25-17, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12 victory before 927 at the new Romano Gym, Boos cracked a big grin and did a double fist pump.

In a season of ups and downs, this was the greatest up.

"That was a heckuva bounce-back," Boos said. "After having some hectic moments, even Friday night against Moorhead, to only having 10 hitting errors after the first set, that's incredible. That's been our biggest issue - too many errors, too many mistakes - but we really cleaned a lot of that up and pressured them to have to make plays and do some things. It gave us a chance."

Sophomore Kate Berg led the way with a career-high 22 kills for the Bulldogs (12-3 overall, 6-1 NSIC), while Meyer had 18 kills and seven blocks and senior Makenzie Morgen added 14 kills and 22 digs.


"This was awesome," Berg said. "It felt good from the get-go. Even though we dropped the first set, we were very consistent with our play, and that hasn't always been us. We kept playing consistent and being the aggressor. This match was all about the team and finding out how good we can be."

Berg said increased playing time has helped her get into a flow after senior right-side hitter Sarah Kelly went down with an injury. Kelly, who led the Bulldogs with 426 kills while earning first-team All-American honors in 2017, injured her right knee in practice Sept. 10 after taking off awkwardly and hasn't played since.

In Kelly's absence, the Bulldogs fell to St. Cloud State last week for the first time since 1995, but appear to be adjusting to volleyball post-Kelly if Saturday was any indication. With Kelly out, Meyer moved to the right side, while Berg and Morgen remained at outside hitter.

"Toward the beginning of the year the three of us were working on the outside, and we couldn't figure out a rhythm," Berg said. "It allows us to get into a rhythm with our setter and just feel the vibe on the court."

Junior setter Emily Torve continued to show off her all-around game, with 64 set assists and 15 digs while helping out on the block.

Freshman middle blocker Summer Ballard, who Boos called the team's "unsung hero," added a career-high eight blocks and seven kills with an efficient .353 attack percentage. Meanwhile, fellow middle blocker Thor added eight kills, six blocks and a .421 hitting clip.

"Both middles, between them, had 14 blocks and 15 kills with only one hitting error," Boos said. "That's important stuff."

Hailey Busch had 20 kills and 12 digs to lead Northern State (14-1, 6-1), while junior setter Ashley Rozell had 57 set assists, 14 digs, three ace serves and six kills, including one to pull the Wolves to within a point at 13-12 in the fifth set, giving UMD fans that Pepto Bismol feeling of queasiness before the Bulldogs got the next two points to end it.


"The ranking is a number. If you're ranked No. 1 or No. 2, what's the difference?" Northern State coach Brent Aldridge said. "It doesn't mean they want to beat us any less, and you still have to take care of your side of the net. We didn't do that, and credit to them. They were better than us. That's the toughest I think I've ever seen them serve."

And nobody was better than Berg.

"The biggest issue she's had is being consistent, but obviously she played the way we know she's capable of playing," Boos said. "That's the Kate Berg everyone remembers and we want to continue to see."

While Berg credited her increased playing time for making a difference, Boos pointed out that she had nine errors to just six kills in Friday's 3-1 victory over Minnesota State-Moorhead.

"So less than 24 hours later, she brought an entirely different level. She was incredible," Boos said. "If I knew that answer (to the inconsistency), I'd press the buttons to make it not happen."

And there'd be a lot more smiles and fist pumps at Romano Gym.

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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