Déjà vu in Dinkytown

Fighting Hawks Volleyball carries more aggressive mindset into national tournament rematch with Gophers

UND Volleyball players react to a kill against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the NCAA National Tournament in 2016 in Minneapolis. The Fighting Hawks are preparing for a rematch with Minnesota on Friday night. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

UND Volleyball players react to a kill against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round of the NCAA National Tournament in 2016 in Minneapolis. The Fighting Hawks are preparing for a rematch with Minnesota on Friday night. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

As UND Volleyball prepares for its second consecutive trip to the NCAA National Tournament in as many years, there’s a definite swagger about the team that suggests they’ve been there before.

And as far as destination goes – they have.

The Fighting Hawks (30-7) are headed for Minneapolis for the second-straight season to do battle with No. 7 overall seed Minnesota Golden Gophers (26-5) in the opening round of the Big Dance for NCAA women’s volleyball. First serve is set for 7 p.m. Friday night at Maturi Pavilion (Minnesota Sports Pavilon) on the UM campus.

But even apart from the literal sense of “being there before,” the UND women are exuding an air of confidence since they left Sacramento, Calif., two weeks ago with their second-straight Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship and the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tourney. Even then, every indication was that UND would be paired with volleyball powerhouse Minnesota on their home floor.

In fact, Friday night will be the third time playing the Gophers there in the last 14 months.

“We know what the gym is like…we will just show up and play,” aid UND head coach Mark Pryor. “It’s a little different mentality (this time) … yes, it’s Minnesota, but who cares? I think, for us, we’re not just happy to be there anymore.  I think there’s a real opportunity that we can shock somebody.”

UND Volleyball, which, so far, has posted a school record 30 wins this season, and Coach Pryor said there’s a hunger in his players to do one last thing -- send a team home in December. Will it be the Gophers on Friday night? Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

UND Volleyball, which so far has posted a school record 30 wins this season and has checked off most of its preseason goals, has one last goal in mind — send a team home in December. Will it be the Gophers on Friday night? Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

Big presence

When the Fighting Hawks returned to Grand Forks after winning the conference tournament, they got right to business in preparation for the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, the team held a special gathering to watch their first appearance on the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament Selection Show on ESPNU. This year, the team watched the show as a group, but with no added fanfare.

“I love the fact that they’re pleased with it, but now for them it’s become an expectation, and I think that’s a really good sign for us,” Pryor said.

The Fighting Hawks won’t be alone in Minneapolis when they take on the Gophers, as a strong contingent of UND fans are expected at the game.

Robert Brooks, director of UND’s Pride of the North band, is sending his assistant director, Brian Pfeifer and 29 members of the band, to the UND-Gopher game, and “when we win,” he said,  the band will stay on to play the next game against either Northern Iowa or Louisville.

In addition to the band, UND’s Cheer Team also will be there.

With a large number of alumni in the Twin Cities area and several members of the Fighting Hawks team with roots in Minnesota and North Dakota, a lot of Green and White is expected in the stands Friday night.

If you can’t make it to game in Minneapolis in person, you can still hear it live locally on 1440-AM The Fan.

As was the case in 2016, the Fighting Hawks won’t be alone in Minneapolis when they take on the Gophers. A strong contingent of UND fans are expected at Friday's game. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

As was the case in 2016, the Fighting Hawks won’t be alone in Minneapolis when they take on the Gophers. A strong contingent of UND fans are expected at Friday’s game. Image courtesy of UND Athletics.

Big wins, big money

Volleyball’s success this year is an extension of a wave of wins by Fighting Hawks athletic programs over the past two years. In April 2016, Hockey claimed its eighth NCAA national championship. And in 2016-17, four other UND programs – Volleyball, Football and Men’s and Women’s Basketball – claimed Big Sky Conference Championships. All went on to play in NCAA post-season tournaments, including a trip to the famed Big Dance for the Men’s Basketball.

The success on the playing field coincides with big gains in fundraising and revenues for UND Athletics.

UND’s Alumni Association & Foundation announced they received $9.2 million in private gifts in fiscal year 2017 (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017), along with revenue records in ticket sales, net sponsorship, media rights and an increase in licensing royalties.

The $9.2 million includes cash gifts, pledges, and bequest commitments, and 3,352 donors gave 5,001 total gifts to support scholarships, the North Dakota Champions Club, the High Performance Center and other program enhancements.

Total fundraising was up almost $3 million from last year.

“The generosity of alumni, friends, and fans of UND Athletics continues to make a difference for our student-athletes in competition, in the classroom, and in the community,” said DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. “They (donors) are creating opportunities for UND Athletics today, tomorrow and forever.”

One last thing

UND Volleyball, which, so far, has posted a school record 30 wins this season, is 0-4 all-time against the Gophers, including a 3-1 setback in the regular season last year prior to the 3-0 loss in the NCAA Tournament.

As they head into another clash with the mighty Gophers, Coach Pryor said there’s a hunger in his players to do one last thing.

“We’ve accomplished all of our team goals except one (this season), and that is we would like to send somebody home in December,” he said. “For this group of kids, that’s a pretty aggressive goal and a mindset that I have not seen from them before.”

Other things to know about this team:

  • The Fighting Hawks are second in the nation in total blocks, and third nationally in kills and digs.
  • The Fighting Hawks have finished atop the Big Sky North Division in three of the past four seasons.
  • UND’s attendance of 3,140 in the home opener (vs. NDSU) was the first-ever sellout for volleyball at The “Betty.”
  • Faith Dooley is the UND career record holder for blocks (672), breaking a 26-year-old record, and her 195 total blocks this season lead the NCAA.
  • UND had seven different players named to all-tournament teams with three different MVPs in pre-league tourneys this season.
  • Sydney Griffin became the fourth UND player ever to reach 4,000 career assists and is now in third place (4,204). Griffin has 19 career matches with 50 or more assists.
  • North Dakota recorded a school-record 20 consecutive home wins this past season.
  • UND also carried a school-record 39 straight set wins at home this season.
  • UND checks in at No. 18 in the latest VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Top 25 Poll.