Matchup with No. 12 Minnesota latest addition to South Dakota volleyball's NCAA Tournament resume

·2 min read
South Dakota's Madison Harms lunges to make contact with the ball during the Summit League Tournament championship match on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.
South Dakota's Madison Harms lunges to make contact with the ball during the Summit League Tournament championship match on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.

South Dakota volleyball head coach Leanne Williamson is familiar with USD’s NCAA Tournament first-round opponent Minnesota.

“At least to an extent,” she continued.

She watches enough Big Ten volleyball, and Gophers associate head coach Matt Houk was a former head coach at USD who gave Williamson her start. Yet other than watching from afar and, possibly yet rarely, on film, that’s where the familiarity ends. South Dakota has never played the Gophers. Summit League teams rarely have to cross paths with a Big Ten team.

Yet this is a new era of South Dakota volleyball. Williamson, speaking to the gathered crowd at the watch party for the Coyotes’ third NCAA Tournament berth in four years, joked that she didn’t know why the ESPN commentators didn’t analyze South Dakota on the selection show broadcast. Yet there seemingly was a hint of truth to that.

Earlier: South Dakota will face No. 12 Minnesota in first round

In the preseason, Williamson said the next goal for USD is to not just make games in the tournament, but to win them. Each of the other two NCAA Tournament appearances in the past four years have ended in 3-0 losses, but ahead of a matchup with the No. 12 Gophers, Williamson thinks her team is as prepared as it's ever been.

The South Dakota Volleyball team cheers from the sidelines in the second set of the Summit League Tournament championship match as they win the set 30-28 on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.
The South Dakota Volleyball team cheers from the sidelines in the second set of the Summit League Tournament championship match as they win the set 30-28 on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.

“All of those moments prepare us for this next weekend,” Williamson said.

A matchup with Minnesota, a new opponent, in its own ways is representative of the growth the Coyotes have taken. The Gophers are 20-8 and 15-5 in Big Ten competition, but they’ve gone about their success in a different way than the Coyotes. South Dakota ranks No. 2 in the Summit League in kills. Coyotes outside hitter Elizabeth Juhnke leads USD and the Summit League with 3.97 kills per set.

Minnesota, on the other hand, has earned the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament through its excellence on defense. The Gophers are within the top-5 or top-6 in most offensive categories, but lead the Big Ten in digs with 17.22 per set. Also, Minnesota's Stephanie Samedy leads the Big Ten with 4.84 kills per set.

South Dakota's Madison Jurgens  hits the ball over to Omaha during the Summit League Tournament championship match on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.
South Dakota's Madison Jurgens hits the ball over to Omaha during the Summit League Tournament championship match on Saturday, November 27, 2021, at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center in Vermillion.

Williamson said Minnesota is “a good team” that will present “a lot of challenges.” But that’s the benefit of an NCAA Tournament berth becoming “an expectation.” Williamson said she would have been fine with a matchup with Creighton, which was Williamson’s first NCAA Tournament opponent when the Coyotes qualified in 2018.

But playing new competition, seeing new styles and new teams is how the program continues to grow.

“It's just building that resume,” Juhnke said, “and having those experiences behind us that’s going to help us.”

Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.

USD (20-9) vs. MINNESOTA (20-8)

Time/date: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Minneapolis

TV/streaming: ESPN+

Up next: The winner will face Stanford or Iowa State on Saturday at 7 p.m.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: In Minnesota vs. South Dakota volleyball, Coyotes to add to 'resume'

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