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.
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.
— Denver Volleyball (@DU_Volleyball) April 3, 2021
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