Back-to-back

UND Volleyball is off to the NCAA National Tournament for the second year in a row

UND Volleyball 2017

UND Volleyball’s Faith Dooley (kneeling) is joined by teammates celebrating the match point that catapulted them to a second-straight Big Sky Conference Championship and berth in the NCAA National Tournament. The Fighting Hawks defeated host team Sacramento State 3-2 in a grueling roller coaster match on Saturday night. Image courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – UND senior Julia Kaczorowska usually plays with joy and a friendly smile on the volleyball court.

UND head volleyball coach Mark Pryor

UND Head Volleyball Coach Mark Pryor

But on Saturday night in hostile territory, down 2 sets to 1 and the season on the line, the Fighting Hawks’ veteran outside hitter showed a different side.

“We were just bad, and our court demeanor wasn’t acceptable,” said UND head coach Mark Pryor. “Even before I could address that before set four, I hear Julia Kaczorowska talking very sternly to the team. I listen in, and she is talking about who we are and who we want to be, and she personally was not going to allow our season to end due to us losing our identity, and being selfish in a big moment.

“That was it. She simply was not going to let any negativity get in our way. She stated it, it was addressed as a team and they just rolled from there.”

And roll they did, UND (30-7) stole the next two sets in dominating fashion, snapping the Sacramento State Hornets 26-game home floor winning streak and securing a second-straight Big Sky Tournament championship for the Fighting Hawks – as well as an auto bid to the NCAA National Tournament – also the team’s second in a row.

UND’s 30 wins in a season, so far, is a program best.

Get it together

Kaczorowska, a kinesiology major from Oakville Ont., willed her team to victory against a tough Sacramento State squad, which had bested the Fighting Hawks in their only other meeting of the season. She finished the game with four kills and an assist on a block, but more importantly, her tough-love energy sparked her teammates to get on board and take care of business.

“We won because our team rediscovered their identity in a tough situation,” Pryor said. “The team recognized that if we don’t self-destruct, and follow the game plan, they couldn’t beat us.”

Kaczorowska said she was feeling a whirlwind of emotions as she walked into the team huddle just before the fourth set, and none of it was very pleasant. The looming prospect that it could be her last UND volleyball game combined with the fact that her team just wasn’t playing to its potential upset Kaczorowska.

“It was a little bit of anger at the time; I’m not going to lie – I can get little intense sometimes,” Kaczorowska said. “I just wanted my teammates to play with more passion so that we could finish on a more positive note.”

Mission accomplished.

UND Volleyball 2017

UND Volleyball will learn the identity of its first round opponent and location of its next game during the NCAA Selection Show, set for next Sunday (Nov. 26) evening. Image courtesy of Sacramento State Athletics.

Still sinking in

UND middle hitter Faith Dooley set career highs for kills and digs in the match, which took place before a highly partisan Sacramento State crowd. Dooley later noted the roller coaster nature of the match.

Julia Kaczorowska

Julia Kaczorowska

“It was tough,” Dooley said. “Everything we went through this season, we went through in this game. I’m just so excited to go back (to the national tournament).”

Since returning to Grand Forks, Kaczorowska has been getting congratulations in the community and in class but she says the accomplishment of winning back-to-back Big Sky titles and returning to the NCAA tournaments hasn’t sunk in yet.

“It’s really surreal,” she said. “All of us can’t believe it happened again. Not that we didn’t think we could do it, but doing it twice feels different, and with the roller coaster of emotion that we’ve gone through, when it finally did happen, oh my gosh, it was unbelievable.”

UND collected preliminary-round tournament victories against Weber State and the University of Idaho. Dooley, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She also was named to the All-Tournament Team with fellow Fighting Hawks, Jordan Vail and Sydney Griffin.

Those same three were named to the Big Sky All Conference First Team by league officials.

UND now awaits news from the NCAA on whom it will face the in the first round of the NCAA National Volleyball Tournament. Last year, UND earned its first-ever berth in the national tournament and was paired with the No. 2 ranked Minnesota Gophers, which made it to the Final Four.

UND will learn its first round opponent and location following the NCAA Selection Show, set for next Sunday (Nov. 26) evening.

The volleyball team is the first UND program to win back-to-back Big Sky titles.

-UND Athletics contributed to this report.