South Dakota volleyball coach Leanne Williamson wasn't expecting to win her third-straight Summit League Tournament championship with two sweeps, but the way the Coyotes were playing, it didn't surprise her. With some of "the best volleyball that we've played all season," the Coyotes didn't lose a single set in the conference tournament, beating both Denver and Omaha 3-0 to qualify for its fourth NCAA Tournament in the last five years.
Williamson has been in this position a lot in the last half-decade, but entering a matchup with No. 5-seed Houston at D.J. Sokol Arena in Omaha Friday at 3:30 p.m., the Coyotes coach said that a team of hers has never had this much momentum.
"This was the probably the cleanest we played, even in the conference tournament," Williamson said. "Our team knew what it took to win. They've been there. They understand the grind of it, but they also know what they're chasing."
What USD (29-3, 14-2 Summit) is chasing is the first win in the program's NCAA Tournament history. The Coyotes have done a lot in recent years. Williamson isn't trying to take anything away from that because "it's pretty remarkable and there's a lot of people that would love to be in our shoes." But Friday is yet another opportunity for South Dakota to show that the USD volleyball program can do more. And, after playing an NCAA Tournament game in Minneapolis a season ago, a chance to do so right in the backyard of the areas in which South Dakota has set out on the recruiting trail.
"I think being in the NCAA tournament alone is obviously just recognition, but when we're within kind of our normal recruiting area, it doesn't hurt," Williamson said. "That ability to watch what Coyote volleyball actually is: it's not just something that they're hearing about, it's something that they've seen."
The road to "more" starts with a difficult drawing, though. USD has a lot to do with the numbers, but the four teams in Omaha this weekend have a combined 90 wins this season — the most of any NCAA Tournament quartet by six wins. Their first round opponent, Houston, has 28 of those wins. The Cougars lost just one game in its American Athletic Conference slate, dropping the final game of the season in five sets to Central Florida.
Houston, despite its loss in the final game of the year, has momentum, too. The Cougars won 20 games in a row before suffering the loss to UCF and rank 26th in the country in kills per set (13.92).
There is a common opponent between the two teams in fellow-AAC program South Florida. The Coyotes beat USF in straight sets while the Cougars beat South Florida twice, needing four sets both times. Williamson said that associate head coach Michael Runde and assistant coach Shelly Stumpff have taken the lead on watching "a good amount of (Houston's) matches," but the Coyotes are focusing on their side of the net in the lead up to yet another NCAA Tournament appearance.
South Dakota's still going to play "aggressive," "a really high level of defense" and "give ourselves opportunities to score on the back end." Williamson feels they unlocked something in its last two games, and the Coyotes are looking to keep going.
"We're not going to change how we've gone about things all year just because we're at this point," Williamson said. "We're gonna stay true to who we are."
Follow Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter Michael McCleary on Twitter @mikejmccleary.
This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: USD volleyball preps for 4th NCAA Tournament appearance in 5 years