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Cougars fall 3-1 to Northwestern in volleyball tourney

The University of Minnesota, Morris volleyball team, tied in second place with Northwestern, had to go on the road in the first round of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament. At Northwestern Wednesday, the Cougars fell 3-1 in the opening round.

"We just ran into a team with a lot of playoff experience," head coach Chad Braegelmann said. "They have a large, hungry senior class, who didn't want to lose their last game on their home court."

Despite the experience of the Eagles, the Cougars came out swinging and won the first set 25-20. They hit .361 in the set, en route to the win. Trailing by one at 14-13, the Cougars ripped off six of the next seven points to take a 19-15 lead that they would never relinquish.

"We came out on fire and played great in the first set," Braegelmann said. "It was a great way to start, but we just ran out of comebacks after going down two sets to one."

After falling in the opening set, the Eagles rebounded with three straight wins to take the match. They won 25-19 in the second set, 25-16 in the third, and 25-17 in the deciding fourth set. What keyed the win for Northwestern was their ability to play consistently, hitting at or near the .200 mark for nearly the entire match.

Conversely, the Cougars struggled as the match wore on. After hitting over .300 in the first set, UMM responded with a .167 mark in the second set loss, a .000 tally in set three, and finally a -.024 hitting percentage in the fourth set.

Steph Schmiesing led the Cougars, tallying 12 kills while hitting .308. With five kills and just one error, Natalie Thomas hit a team high .400, but made her mark with her 36 assists, her fifth straight match with over 30.

"We had a great run," Braegelmann said. "It was a fun October, and we played some really great matches."

The Cougars end their season at 20-12 overall, after tying for second in the UMAC in the regular season with Northwestern, with identical 11-3 records.

Northwestern improved to 25-13, and advanced to upset the No. 1 seed St. Scholastica in the conference's post-season tournament championship. In addition to raising the tournament championship trophy - something St. Scholastica did on Northwestern's home court a year ago - the Eagles earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, something the UMAC has been waiting for for two years.