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College volleyball: UMD opens regional tourney as No. 1 seed

Former Minnesota Duluth football player Steve Siroin has been watching Bulldogs volleyball for 30 years and said this year's team is the best he has seen.

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Maddy Siroin (12) of Minnesota Duluth blocks the ball against Wayne State during the NSIC championship game on Saturday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Former Minnesota Duluth football player Steve Siroin has been watching Bulldogs volleyball for 30 years and said this year’s team is the best he has seen.
“Every player can win the game for you,” Siroin said.
That includes his daughter, Maddy, a former Washburn High School standout who made a long but ultimately rewarding journey to Duluth after starting her college career at Minnesota State-Mankato.
Siroin, one of five seniors on UMD’s roster, will help lead the top-seeded and second-ranked Bulldogs into the NCAA Division II Central Region tournament today through Saturday at Romano Gym.
The Bulldogs (31-1) open at 7:30 p.m. today against eighth-seeded Arkansas Tech (29-5) for the second straight year.
UMD is coming off a dominating 25-21, 25-15,
25-10 victory over sixth-ranked Wayne State in the NSIC tournament championship last Saturday at Romano. Siroin had 13 kills, 11 digs and three blocks in another balanced effort for the Bulldogs.
“I have no words for it,” Siroin said of Saturday’s performance, which featured a seemingly impenetrable UMD block. “We kept looking at each other like, ‘What?’ Everyone did a great job. If we continue to play like that, we’ll be fine, and whatever happens, happens.”
Coach Jim Boos downplayed any hype about this being the Bulldogs’ best team, noting he has had teams that have advanced further. Still, UMD is off to its best start in school history and has won 25 straight.
“It’s a fun group, it’s a balanced group and it’s one of the best teams we’ve ever had,” Boos said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”
Siroin is one of five UMD players with at least 254 kills this season. Last year, only two Bulldogs, senior Kate Lange and middle blocker Monica Turner, with 655 and 288 kills, respectively, topped that mark.
Siroin’s 311 kills are 61 more than she had last season and nearly 100 more than she had as a sophomore. She has added 194 digs and 64 blocks and leads the Bulldogs with 28 service aces. With a polished all-around game, the 5-foot-11, right-side hitter reminds some of a miniature version of Lange, with a little different style.
“Maddy is smart and skilled in all five aspects of the game: blocking, hitting, defending, serving and passing. She can do it all,” Boos said. “The thing that Maddy provides is energy and leadership. She is that ultimate competitor who’s fired up and ready to go. It was a long journey for Maddy to end up here, but obviously, we’re thrilled this is where she ended up. She has certainly had a breakout year.”
Junior outside hitter Mariah Scharf leads the Bulldogs with 429 kills, while junior Ashley Hinsch leads the nation at 13.1 assists per set. Senior libero Julie Rainey (590 digs) and senior outside hitter Katie Ledwell (328 digs) lead the defense.
“They played like one of the best UMD teams I’ve ever seen,” Wayne State coach Scott Kneifl said. “They have more than one option. Kate Lange was a fabulous player, obviously, but at times they could become one dimensional. Now, they attack you from all over. If they can pass like they did against us, they’re hard to beat.
“You turn around the next day and things could be different. It seems silly, but that’s the way it works in this sport. It’s crazy how many good teams are in this region, so it’s going to come down to whoever gets hot.”
Arkansas Tech comes in having won the Great American Conference.
Concordia-St. Paul (26-5), meanwhile, has won an unprecedented seven straight national titles and is the No. 2 seed.
Siroin hopes the Bulldogs’ balance and unpredictability gives them an edge.
“No person can be spot-on every night, so we just go with whoever is hot,” Siroin said. “That is what is so great about our team. We just rally around each other.”
Siroin comes from an athletic family. Her father played defensive end under legendary UMD coach Jim Malosky from 1985-89. Her mother, Cherie Kurtz, ran track, including the heptathlon, at Wisconsin.
Maddy Siroin played at Mankato in 2010 before transferring to UMD, where she had to sit out one season.
That was one decision she - and her father - don’t regret.
“I started my recruiting process really late, so I didn’t take in all the factors,” Siroin said. “I’m from little Washburn, Wisconsin, and Mankato just wasn’t a good fit for me. Duluth is closer to home, and my family got to come watch me play every weekend. In high school, it was like, ‘Don’t go to UMD. Everyone goes to UMD.’ And I was like, ‘Whatever. OK. What do I know?’ Now I’m so happy I made the switch.”
HINSCH EARNS REGION HONORS
Hinsch, a setter from Zumbrota, Minn., was named the Daktronics NCAA Division II Central Region player of the year, announced Wednesday. The Bulldogs earned top region honors for the second straight season after Lange won in 2013 en route to being named national player of the year.
Joining Hinsch on the first team are Rainey and Scharf. Turner earned second-team honors.
No other team had multiple members on the first team. It’s Rainey’s third straight Daktronics honor but first appearance on the first team.
Concordia also had four selections.
College volleyball
NCAA Division II Central Regional
At Romano Gym / Today’s Quarterfinals
-- Neb.-Kearney (27-3) vs. Southwest Minn. St. (21-9), noon
-- Washburn (24-6) vs. Concordia-St. Paul (26-5), 2:30 p.m.
-- Wayne (Neb.) St. (26-6) vs. Cent. Missouri (22-8), 5 p.m.
-- Arkansas Tech (29-5) at Minn. Duluth (31-1), 7:30 p.m.

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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