On the Bench with Byron Higgin
Top-seeded Southwest Minnesota State suffered its second lowest hitting percentage (.179) of the season and had its seven-match win streak snapped by Minnesota Duluth, which came away with a 25-23, 25-15, 25-23 sweep over SMSU on Friday night in the second of two NCAA Central Region semifinal matches in the PE Gym.
The loss drops the Mustangs’ record to 11-4 on the year against the AVCA Top-25 and 5-3 against the nation’s top 10 teams.
Megan Larson of Minneota ended her illustrious career as the team setter.
“We’ve depended on her and counted on her for the better part of four years,” said Coach Terry Culhane. “There is literally no doubt in my mind that that kid loved volleyball.”
He added, “This is a hard day for her, for everybody. She would love to play four more years of volleyball,” he said about Larson.
“That time comes and she had a wonderful career and has been a great player,” the coach added.
Taylor Reiss, also of Minneota and Kaylee Burmeister, the Mustangs’ two leading hitters all season long, finished tied for the team lead with 10 kills each against UMD. Larson had 31 assists to conclude her SMSU career as the Mustangs’ all-time leader with 5,574 career assists. Larson also finishes her career as the current NCAA Division II leader in career assists. UMD advanced to play second-seeded Concordia-St. Paul in the Central Region championship match on Saturday but lost and Concordia, the defending national champion, will advance once again to the nationals.
First game ... The Arkansas Tech Golden Suns entered the opening round of the NCAA Central Region Tournament with a perfect 35-0 record.
The undefeated Golden Suns had no answers for the Southwest Minnesota State University volleyball team, as the top seeded Mustangs defeated the Golden Suns in straight sets to advance to the semifinals. The Mustangs won 25-9; 25-20 and 25-21.
Minneota’s Taylor Reiss and Megan Larson again led the team
“It was a wonderful atmosphere,” SMSU coach Terry Culhane said. “It was a hard fought match. I think we came out ready to play. We set the tone early in Set 1. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes. We handled the emotion and excitement of it pretty well. We are excited about the win and the opportunity to play tomorrow.”
The Mustangs set the tone for the match in the opening set. SMSU, the host of the Central Region Tournament, jumped out to a 9-1 lead and never looked back. That fast start was fueled by a three kills from Taylor Reiss and two aces from Dani Potter. SMSU never took their foot off the gas en route to a 25-9 opening set victory. Reiss finished the third set with eight kills. Burmeister recorded three kills. Megan Larson finished the match with 31 assists, three aces and 10 digs.
Congratulations to Megan Larson! She had a tremendous high school career and followed it up with a great college careers.
And what a dream come true to play in both careers with friend and teammate Taylor Reiss. We’re certain Reiss will have another great year next season, but it will be without the help of Megan Larson.
And I’m sure Reiss will miss her. From the time we first saw Megan Larson step on the court at the state tournament in relief of Taya Kockelman, to the time she graduated from Minneota, she gave Viking fans something to cheer about. And she did the same for Mustang fans for four years.
Thanks Megan Larson! Great Career!
ODDS AND ENDS:
•Minneota’s Taylor Reiss is a junior and will return to the SMSU volleyball team next year.
•Minneota’s Isaac Hennen will play in the North South Football All-Star game at 3 p.m. Saturday, December 9 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Hennen is a member of the South squad coached by Dan Fritze of East Ridge. Austin Einerson, a linebacker from BOLD is on the same team and so is Marshall quarterback Lance Trey. Pipestone Area cornerback Ty Woebler also plays on the south team.
On Sunday morning, Hennen will be one of those honored for the Mr. Football Award at the Hilton Hotel. One Mr. Football will be chosen.