It wasn't the way the Minot State University volleyball team wanted its season to end, but it's hard to deny the program's vast improvement in just its second year in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and NCAA Division II.
The Beavers closed out their season with a four-set loss to No. 20 Wayne State College on Saturday at the MSU Dome. MSU won a tightly contested first set before dropping the next three in a 24-26, 25-17, 25-19, 26-24 decision on Senior Night.
The Beavers (12-18 overall, 7-13 NSIC) jumped on the 20th-ranked Wildcats in the first set, taking an early 8-3 lead with three kills and a block by sophomore outside hitter Mallory Sall. MSU led by as many as six at 17-11 before WSC crept back into the game with help from nine Beaver miscues. The Wildcats scored six of their final 12 points on MSU errors.
Minot State University freshman outside hitter Lauren Dunkle swings as Wayne State College’s Alyssa Frauendorfer (10) and Elizabeth Gebhardt (12) go up for a block Saturday at the MSU Dome.
WSC (21-9, 12-8) took the lead on Katie Hughes' ace to make it 22-21, but two kills by junior outside hitter Jen Dixon and a Wildcat error gave the Beavers set point. WSC fought off the first set point, but consecutive kills by freshman outside hitter Lauren Dunkle won it for MSU. The Beavers recorded 20 kills in the opening set.
"There was a lot of motivation as it's the end of the season," Dixon said. "There was a lot of motivation to go out strong and do it for our seniors. It's their last game. We just wanted to go out strong, passionate and do whatever we can to finish the season strong."
The Wildcats responded by taking the next two sets handily. WSC trailed only once during that stretch - 8-7 in the second game following three straight Dixon kills. Cori Hobbs and Elizabeth Gebhardt dominated the second set, combining for 11 of the Wildcats' 18 kills. In the third set, it was a mix of Hobbs and Alyssa Frauendorfer that allowed WSC to take control of the match. The duo combined for 10 kills.
"I think we're a pretty special group," MSU coach Travis Ward said. "(WSC's) one of the best teams in the country in our opinion. They're ranked in the top 25 and we need every shot to beat them. We're pretty excited about how our team is playing."
The Beavers had an opportunity to extend their season by another game, leading 20-16 in the fourth. But WSC closed the match on a 10-4 run, winning four of the final five points.
"We showed what we can do against a lot of good teams in the NSIC," Dixon said. "There's a lot of good teams and we came out and gave it our best. There's little things we can improve and there's little things we will work on in the offseason."
Dixon finished with a match highs of 18 kills and 26 digs.
The Beavers recorded six more wins than last season and fared five matches better in conference play. Ward said the future's bright for MSU.
"I know we're going to be able to put balls away and teams are going to have to play really well to beat us," he said. "I think that showed tonight."
WSC coach Scott Kneifl agreed.
"(MSU) played really well today," he said. "They played clean. They're super scrappy and Travis does a great job here. Those kids are on their way up and they're playing a lot of young players. We knew it was going to be a battle coming in. We feel pretty fortunate to walk out of here with a win."
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot State University men's club hockey team and the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.