In each of the past five seasons, the Minnesota Morris volleyball team was on the verge with winning an Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) Tournament championship only to be defeated by Northwestern every time. That streak came to an end Saturday, Nov. 3, in St. Paul. The Cougars topped Northwestern, 3 sets to 1 (25-18, 16-25, 25-19, 25-17), to claim the UMAC championship and earn the program's first bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It was an extra historic night for the Cougars. In addition to the UMAC championship, junior Layne Herrmann became the Cougars' all-time leader in assists. She surpassed Beth Ploof's record of 3,364 career assists. Herrmann's career total now stands at 3,371.
The Cougars came into Saturday's match riding some momentum after coming back from a 2 sets to 1 deficit at UW-Superior Wednesday, Oct. 31 in the UMAC semifinals. They jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the first. Northwestern would come back to take a 13-12 after a 4-0 run. The Cougars countered with four straight to regain the edge at 16-13. Later a 5-0 spurt ending with a Tori Everson service ace gave UMM a 24-16 lead. Brenna Tinjum closed out the set three points later with a kill.
After Northwestern tied the match with a second set win, the Cougars raced out to an 8-3 lead in the third. Northwestern pulled within one at 12-11 until kills from Tinjum and Whitney Schwartz stretched the lead back out to three at 15-12. An Eagle 4-0 run gave them a 17-16 lead. Another well-timed kill from Tinjum ended a 3-0 Cougar run that gave them a 21-18 lead. Rachel Mathias started a set-closing 4-0 run that gave UMM a 25-19 set win and 2 sets to 1 advantage.
In the team's second match against Northwestern this season, the Eagles came back from a 2 set to 0 deficit to claim a five-set win. The Cougars were determined to not let that happen Saturday night despite falling behind 5-0 to start the fourth set. The Cougars scored nine of the next 10 points to take a 9-6 lead. Northwestern pulled even with the Cougars at 11 before kills from Mathias and Tinjum gave the Cougars a lead they would not relinquish. A Tinjum ace ended a 3-0 Cougar run that gave them a 17-13 advantage. Later a 4-0 spurt gave them a 22-16 lead. On the brink of winning a championship, Everson delivered a service ace and Tinjum ended a long rally with a kill that sent the Cougar bench onto the court in celebration of a tournament championship. Relive the championship point here.
Saturday marked the Cougars' first victory over Northwestern since 2013. To get a win, it was about changing the mindset.
"We came in and had a good vibe and we were really positive," said Herrmann in an interview with UMAC after the game. "We knew we had to change our mindset from past matches with them and this time we were thinking 'we're not trying to beat them, they're trying to beat us. This is about us and it's not about them.' I think tonight we came out and showed them what we could do."
Herrmann totaled 34 assists Saturday night. Mathias led a balanced Cougar attack with 11 kills. Tinjum had a great all-around effort with 11 digs, nine kills, and four aces. Everson added 11 digs, nine kills and three aces. Alyssa Ukestad led with 16 digs.
You can find out when, where, and who the Cougars will be playing in the NCAA Tournament Monday, Nov. 5 at 11:30 a.m. for the NCAA DIII Volleyball Selection Show on ncaa.com.