Denver Volleyball Drops Summit League Title Match in Marathon Tilt

Clearly, the Pioneers (14-3) and the Coyotes (16-6, 13-3) were the class of the Summit League this season and it was fitting that the two teams met to determine the best conference team with the winner going to the NCAA Tournament. It was also appropriate that the Denver and South Dakota Summit League Volleyball Championship match went to a fifth and deciding set between two evenly matched squads. Denver took the first two games of the match, one in extra points. South Dakota counterpunched with two straight games, both in extra points. Of course, the deciding game went to extra points as well, 14-12, South Dakota.

South Dakota 19 26 27 26 14 3
Denver 25 28 25 24 12 2

With no scheduled non-conference matches for Denver this season to burnish their national rankings due to COVID-19, only one Summit League team will emerge from the conference with an NCAA volleyball bid.

DU’s tandem of Marina Marinkovic and Brianna Green accounted for 33 kills while South Dakota’s pair of Elizabeth Juhnke and Sami Slaughter wracked up 41 kills. DU’s Macy Carrabine covered the entire floor with 32 digs and Ellie Anderson had 40 assists. While heartbreaking for Denver’s players, especially their six graduating players, this match was what college sports is all about with two evenly matched teams leaving everything on the floor.

South Dakota pounded Denver 3-0 in Denver several weeks ago and the Pioneers dropped in the NCAA volleyball rankings to fourth place in their own conference behind Kansas City, South Dakota and Omaha. But the talented Pioneers set a plan in place early in the season which focused on players’ mental and physical health during COVID-19 and less on on-court practice. It was a calculated risk that counted on players peaking at exactly the right time – and they did.

Coming off the South Dakota loss, the Pioneers caught fire and swept North Dakota State and  UMKC en-route to a regular-season title. Denver kept the momentum going by sweeping Omaha in the opening round of the Summit League Volleyball Championships in Sioux Falls, SD. Then came Saturday afternoon’s lead-swapping, nail-biting donnybrook at the Sanford Pentagon.

It is always difficult to end a season with a conference playoff loss, especially when Denver was starting to play their very best volleyball. Credit goes to a very good South Dakota side that played an outstanding match. Hopefully, as winners of the regular-season conference title this season, Denver can return the favor at Hamilton Gym next season.

Photo: Courtesy of the Summit League

9 thoughts on “Denver Volleyball Drops Summit League Title Match in Marathon Tilt”

  1. It was one of the more incredible athletic contests I have ever watched. The phrase “neither team deserved to lose” is used too often, but it definitely applies to today’s championship match. High level play on both sides of the net by both teams. Both teams fought off multiple championship points. The last 4 matches all went extra points. Multiple close calls (you couldn’t pay me enough to be a volleyball official).

    I do believe USD will host next year by virtue of winning the conference regular season title last year. One of the many unique consequences of all things Covid.

    1. Thanks for the note, GoYotes.

      South Dakota has a hell of a team and a couple of players that are All-American quality (Juhnke, Slaughter and Harms). Hoping SD can get a few wins in the tournament for the Summit League. We will be rooting for South Dakota to carry the banner proud. Thanks for checking in and best of luck!

  2. I see it much differently.

    I see a tourney that should NEVER have been played in South Dakota. DU was the rightful host of the tourney, and it should have been played in Denver. Very, very slimy move by the Summit, which hurt DU today.

    And secondly, this is Division I athletics and both teams play in the same gym — so let’s call it what it was – a SD success, and a DU failure.

    DU was up 2-0, had multiple chances to win it, but, instead, gagged on the moment and lost, 3-2. Game, Set, Match, Season, NCAA bid. All Gone.

    Feel horrible for the DU team, who will feel this pain for the rest of their lives.

  3. What an incredible match!! That was soo fun to watch! Our Pioneers should hold their heads high for fighting until the last point!

    1. I think DU fans need to look a lot more critically at this loss, folks.

      This was a choke. Plain and simple. It’s one thing if DU falls in a tight back-and-forth struggle, but quite another when a huge lead is squandered and the other team takes it away…

      If DU hockey had a 2-0 lead in the third period of the NCHC Championship game against North Dakota, and allowed UND to come back and tie the game 2-2 in the last 10 minutes of play, and DU went on to then lose the game to UND in overtime after hitting a few net posts, I am pretty sure most DU fans would not be saluting DU for ‘holding their heads high’ and ‘fighting hard’ — they would be probably be upset as they watched their team gag-up a serious lead and lose the game. They would wonder about DU having enough energy/killer instinct to close out the opponent when they had the chance. This is D-I sports, and these are men and women now, not kids.

      To me, it’s a male/female double standard if we said “the hockey team choked”, but the volleyball team, who had a 2-0 lead over USD and then lost three straight sets (with multiple match points to close it out) “fought hard.”

      Isn’t it?

  4. We are not C.C. We do not give out atta boys(girls), good tries, moral victories or participation trophies/banners!

  5. I disagree totally and I have watched nearly every match. This has been an unusual year and Denver athletes have made incredible sacrifices this season. DU’s COVID protocols have been much stricter than other Summit League schools which have put Denver at a disadvantage compared to their peer schools. Sorry, but if you have never competed at an elite or D1 level, you frankly don’t understand the pressure and work it takes to compete and win. South Dakota has talent equal to or better than DU – they were tabbed by the Summit League coaches as the preseason favorites (7-2). The coaches know more than we do about their teams. Hogan said before the regular-season match against South Dakota that they were better than DU at that point – he just hoped to improve enough in the final weeks to compete at the tournament. DU went ahead and won the regular season Summit League title which is, frankly, much harder to do than win a weekend tournament. The fact that it was on South Dakota’s backyard didn’t make it any easier. South Dakota was a better team than DU this season. Pretty unrealistic and puffed-up to think DU ‘deserves’ to win just because they are DU. Other teams have fine athletes, too. Like Herm Edwards says, “That is why you play the game.” If you think DU deserves to win every time they take the field, court, rink, etc…you are sure to be disappointed.

  6. You make some good points, 5B West. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    My point wasn’t about who deserved to win. Both teams wanted to win just as badly. Both teams worked hard all year. In a competition, no one team ‘deserves it’ more than another — it’s about execution and who executes when it counts that separates the champs from the runners-up. That’s what sports are all about.

    And you don’t have to have played elite sports to understand the pressure and the work that goes into them. I’ve never played a minute of elite sports myself, having maxed-out as a high school athlete, but I have been fortunate enough to work for an elite sports organization (at a higher level than NCAA D-I) and I’ve attended the practices, the meetings, the film sessions, the weight room, the travel, and I’ve seen the incredible investment they put in to winning up close. It’s amazing…In elite sports when you get to playoff time, the talent levels tends to be similar, as the less talented teams have already faded away. What you have left are two talented teams, but one of them will usually have a slight mental edge on the other and often, that is often the difference in winning and losing.

    The Pios had a big early lead and were playing well — and they had USD on the ropes and had they executed as they had been doing, could have swept USD for the title. I am sure they could almost taste it. But DU didn’t close the deal. They certainly had the talent and capacity for victory, but were not able to score the points when they needed them — DU then lost three straight sets and the match, and with it, the title and their season. They got outworked, multiple times, when the big points of match were on the line by a mentally tougher USD team. USD was the better team – and they proved it.

    We can applaud the Pios for their efforts to get where they were – a team good enough to win the Summitt regular season title. But in a one bid conference where DU has won an NCAA bid each year since 2014, I believe its perfectly acceptable, at the D-I level, to question the Pioneers’ mental focus in Sioux Falls. I am sure Coach Hogan, his staff and the team are all kicking themselves at their missed opportunity. And they should.

    This was one that title that got away…

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