Photo: DenverPioneers.com. Becca Latham leads a balanced Pioneer attack
It is finally happening. DU (14-1, 3-0 Summit) and North Dakota (12-8, 4-1 Summit) are headed for a ‘first time’ collision course in Summit League play – and this one should be interesting. Denver women’s volleyball plays new Summit League member North Dakota this weekend on the road Sunday, following a Friday road match against South Dakota 10-6, 4-0 Summit).
Denver, winners of four consecutive Summit League titles and NCAA appearances, has only lost 3 games in their last 9 matches – so they are on a tear. Denver was selected as the preseason Summit League favorite followed by the Fighting Hawks. North Dakota is the defending volleyball champion of last season’s Big Sky Conference.
If you have not followed DU volleyball, the engine that drives the current Pioneers squad is head coach Tom Hogan who received a contract extension earlier this year. Associate head coach Katelin Batten and Jesse Tupac play strong roles running practices and providing in-game input to Hogan. Hogan’s ‘calm under pressure’ style is reflected by DU’s team on the court who feed off his temperament and competitive nature.
Denver outside hitter Becca Latham would be considered DU’s best player. Latham was invited to the Olympic Trials this summer and was selected to the US Collegiate National Team China Tour. DU’s other corner is led by Serbian Seattle University transfer Katerina Marinkovic. Marinkovic is off to a fast start, second behind Latham with 161 kills. In the hostile environment of Grand Forks, it will take a scrappy effort and sophomore middle blocker Tina Boe is a player that elevates her game under pressure. She plays well above her 6’0″ height and is second on the team in blocks.
North Dakota is led by outside hitters Kayla Williams and Ashley Brueggemen along with middle hitter Jordan Vail. A freshman libero, Taliyah Flores, leads the Fighting Haws in digs with 351.
Denver volleyball has only played North Dakota twice in 1983 and 1988 and Denver has never won a set (0-5). But Denver is clearly on a stronger trajectory now. And, of course, both teams want to draw first blood in their initial Summit League meeting between the two schools.