“They want it to be all gas, no brakes,” one commentator said of the University of Northern Colorado during the Big Sky tournament opener. Well, the team rolled into Ogden with that in mind.
UNC (20-8, 13-3 Big Sky) confidently sent Idaho State (13-17, 5-11 Big Sky) back to Pocatello (25-9, 25-21, 25-9).
The No. 1 seeded Bears showed why they earned the top spot in the bracket and made it into the tournament 17 straight times.
The players hit aggressively, they made excellent digs – nothing like multiple dives or unlikely batting plays to keep the ball up – and had one of their cleaner performances off the service line. In addition, the bank was hyped.
UNC dominated the first and third sets, but Idaho State kept things tight in the second. Even when the Bengals took a few small leads, Northern Colorado didn’t act that way. The team remained sovereign and celebrated every positive game.
In the third set, UNC recorded 13 kills, zero attack errors, four blocks and three aces.
It’s a cliché to call it a total team effort, but it really was.
Graduate student Kailey Jo Ince dominated on both offense and defense. All-Big Sky’s first team pick recorded 12 kills at a .435 batting average, added 14 digs, and added an ace and a block.
Makenzie Harris and Rachel Hickman from the first team also made it big. Harris contributed 12 kills while Hickman added nine. Both seniors also helped with blocking.
Big Sky MVP Syd Cole recorded 35 assists, two kills, digs and two blocks. Oh, and she hit three straight aces in the first set.
Newcomer Brynn Reines ended the tournament with two aces of serve. She trailed Cole in the first set and added hers in back-to-back plays.
Six players contributed on the block, but sophomore Maddie Davies and senior Cece Huhn led the charge. Davies finished with six blocks and Huhn had three. That was on top of their own killings.
Co-Libero of the Year Michaela Boon and Junior Bronwyn Timperly made great saves. Everyone who saw the parquet – no exaggeration – provided at least half a dozen positive plays.
The Bears earned the regular-season title straight away this past weekend. UNC coach Lyndsey Oates said at the time she wasn’t sure the team would be able to make the regular-season championship due to their difficult start to the league.
That obviously made it and played consistently in the last half of the season. UNC’s victory over the Bengals extends their winning streak to 12 games.
UNC meets No. 5 Sacramento State in the semifinals at 3:00 p.m. Friday. Sac State beat No. 4 Montana 3-1 in the quarterfinals.
Northern Colorado won the two-game series against Sacramento State that season. Historically, the Hornets are the only team to win a record over the Bears. Sac State leads the postseason record 3-1, but UNC is 5-0 when seeded at No. 1.