UND Fighting Hawks teams win not one but two Big Sky Conference titles in one day, and in thrilling fashion, on Saturday
In a solid gesture of the OneUND spirit that is permeating the campus, UND head football coach Kyle “Bubba” Schweigert had more than pigskin on his mind when he addressed the media only minutes after his team captured the University’s first-ever Big Sky Conference football championship.
“First of all, I want to congratulate our volleyball team for setting the tone here and winning a conference championship… I know it’s hard to do.”
That’s right. Schweigert wanted everyone to know that it truly was a championship Saturday for UND Fighting Hawks Athletics, as both its volleyball and football teams climbed to the top of their respective conference heaps to claim titles within roughly four hours of each other.
It was the volleyball team that did it first, with a convincing 3-sets-to-none victory over the University of Northern Colorado Golden Bears, one of only two teams to beat UND in conference play earlier in the season. UND volleyball coach Mark Pryor recognized the fan support that turned out for its championship match and helped cheer his team to victory.
“Today’s crowd of over 1,100 was a huge deal for us,” Pryor said.
His thoughts quickly turned to his volleyball squad and the achievement they had just realized.
“It feels good,” he said. “All of the hard work that they put in since the end of June, they deserve it …these young women have absolutely earned it. They have simply put their mind to the task at hand, and they worked for it. The hours they have put in have paid off. They have not had anything given to them. They earned it, and they are so deserving of this conference title.”
The football team followed up the championship example set by volleyball with a thrilling victory of its own against the University of Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at the Alerus Center.
“I’m just so proud of this football team,” said a visibly emotional and moved Schweigert. “They never gave up and kept fighting right there until the end. We got huge plays in all three phases of the game, and what a great way to cap the regular season for our senior class.”
UND football was down 31-10 halfway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game before it rattled off 28 unanswered points to seize a 38-31 victory and the conference championship. No points loomed bigger than those when UND junior cornerback Deion Harris plucked an interception and dashed 40 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes in the game.
“It was a good one,” Schweigert said of the win. “We hope that we have a lot more exciting games. This is what we want to do. We want to be playing in big games at home and big games in November — but this one was certainly exciting.”
The championship victories gave UND volleyball the right to host the Big Sky Conference Tournament at UND’s Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, starting Thursday. As for the football team, its win solidified its hopes of being selected for the NCAA Division I football playoffs for the first time in school history.
With Saturday’s victories, the volleyball and football teams join the 2013 women’s basketball team as the only UND teams to win Big Sky championships since the University started playing in the league in 2012.
Coach Pryor had a lot of people on his mind that he wanted to acknowledge for helping to make UND volleyball such a powerhouse in the Big Sky Conference and the region. He recognized his current coaching staff: Erin (Joki) Green, Mia Tabberson, Natalie Thomas and Maumi Ogi. He also brought up a name from the recent past: his predecessor, Ashley Hardee.
“He started this process eight years ago,” Pryor said, “and his early successes and accomplishments have made our continued success possible.”
Chelsea Moser, from Willamina, Ore., who wound up at UND largely because of the recruiting of Hardee, capped off her senior regular season with a championship on Saturday. Moser, the team’s only senior, had developed into the heart and soul of UND volleyball over the past couple of years and had experienced many highs and lows.
“It’s amazing; I’m shaking right now,” she said. “I’ve wanted this for so long for this program and we finally got it.”