The Minot State University volleyball team displayed superior composure Saturday, pulling away late in each set to sweep Minnesota State-Mankato (25-20, 25-20, 26-24) in a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference match at the MSU Dome.
Each game was tied at 17-all or later, but the Beavers (10-13 overall, 6-8 NSIC) were steadier down the stretch.
"I think we showed a lot of maturity as a team - the ability to stay consistent and keep the ball in play and not make as many errors," said junior outside hitter Jen Dixon, who pounded a match-high 14 kills. "That's what we've been working on the whole time and I think it really showed tonight."
Minot State University sophomore Mallory Sall hits the ball off the block of Minnesota State-Mankato setter Ellie Van De Steeg on Saturday at the MSU Dome.
MSU started the match on its heels, falling behind 11-6 before rallying to tie game one at 16-all. The Beavers then rattled off nine of the next 13 points to grab set one.
Redshirt freshman outside hitter Shaunessy Dauwalder, a Stanley native, recorded four of her eight kills in the opening game.
"She's just a kid that I can't wait to see two years from now the type of player she's gonna be compared to what she is today," MSU coach Travis Ward said. "I think you saw some of the talent that she has, but I think it's just a picture of what she's gonna be long-term."
The pattern of set two mimicked the first. Mankato (9-12, 5-9) grabbed a 15-11 lead before MSU stormed back. Dixon recorded six of her kills in the second game as the Beavers claimed another 25-20 set win.
"Credit to them for playing steady and playing hard after 16-(all)," Mankato coach Dennis Amundson said. "They were just gritty after 16."
The Mavericks looked poised to extend the match when they grabbed a 23-19 lead in the third set, but MSU mustered one last rally to complete the sweep. MSU sophomore outside hitter Mallory Sall closed the match with an ace after back-to-back kills by Dixon and sophomore middle hitter Tarah Dabovich.
Ward said he was particularly pleased with the Beavers' serve reception, which allowed MSU to sideout at a 61 percent clip - including 75 percent in the second set.
MSU junior setter Emily Byrne dished out 44 assists and kept the Beavers' offense balanced. Sall finished with 11 kills and middle hitters Dabovich and Kelsey Wingo tallied nine and six, respectively.
"We know that we're already gonna go through our (outside hitters) and we gotta win some matches by going through our outsides," Ward said. "If we want to be really good, we have to at least make (opponents) think we can set somebody else, and obviously, you saw we have kids that can put the ball away in all five spots."
With the win, MSU moved into a tie for ninth place in the conference with six regular-season NSIC matches remaining. The top eight teams qualify for the NSIC tournament.
"We're hanging on to belief that we can get that eighth spot," Ward said. "It's just a fun time of year. It matters here at the end and that's all you can really ask for in a growing program - to be in a situation where you can end seasons and play for your season not to end."
The Beavers host Mayville State in a nonconference match Thursday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Upper Iowa and Winona State this weekend.
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.