MSU Denver volleyball placed second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament on Nov. 18, securing themselves an invite into the NCAA DII National Tournament.
Because of their strong showing in the conference tournament, including an upset over No. 2-seeded Colorado School of Mines, the Roadrunners have earned an invite into the NCAA National Tournament for the second season in a row. Coming off of a regional final berth last season, MSU Denver is now the third seed in their portion of the bracket, starting their tournament run against No. 6 Texas A&M University – Commerce on Nov. 30 at Regis University.
However, getting to that point wasn’t easy.
The team started the season 3-5 before entering conference play, where they lost their first match against Regis. The Roadrunners then rallied off 16 wins in their next 17, securing their No. 3 seeding in the RMAC conference tournament. After swiftly defeating Colorado Mesa University at home 3-0, the team travelled to the Regis Fieldhouse to play against No. 2-seeded Mines.
“We’ve been wanting to play that team again, from an earlier five-set loss at their place,” said head coach Jenny Glenn.
In their only regular season matchup, the Orediggers snapped MSU Denver’s 10-game winning streak that included a revenge-win against Regis. But the 3-2 loss didn’t deter the Roadrunners. Glenn entered the match with a gameplan that she says developed rather unconventionally and uncomfortably, but the team stuck to it. As a result, they walked away with a 3-2 victory over the Orediggers.
The defense made a huge impact in the match, collecting nine blocks and 83 digs. They were led by senior Jackie Lopez who had a team-leading 26 digs by the end of the night. Offensively, the Roadrunners had an attacking percentage of nearly .200, sitting just shy at .197. Juniors Santaisha Sturges and Taylor Duryea lead the way with 19 and 17 kills respectively, while senior Alyssa Svalberg had 53 assists. The Roadrunners also forced the Orediggers into a match-changing 33 errors. Lopez felt the team was driven by their previous loss to Mines.
“It was definitely something that fueled us,” Lopez said. “It was in the back of our mind for sure, but we just wanted that revenge and to prove that we’ve been that team that has been progressing this whole entire time. I think we deserved that win and we proved that.”
MSU Denver then met Regis in the finals. The Rangers would prove to be a more arduous test, with the RMAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in Nikki Kennedy, as well as Freshman of the Year Caitlyn Burroway and three players on the first team All-RMAC.
In the first set, the Roadrunners jumped out to a quick lead, forcing a Regis timeout with a 15-12 lead. After winning two of the next three points, however, the Rangers found a flaw in the Roadrunners defense, getting two service aces and forcing three attack errors from the MSU Denver women. The Rangers led 19-17 after their big flurry, but the Roadrunners would battle back, taking a 22-21 lead before Regis would close out the first set 25-21.
The second set saw the Rangers getting the early lead and never relenting, only allowing MSU Denver to tie several times before another five-point burst put them far ahead in the set. The Roadrunners battled, but couldn’t quite catch up, relenting the second set 25-20.
But this wasn’t the first time the Roadrunners had been down 2-0 against Regis this season. In a match on Oct. 17, MSU Denver battled back, rallying off three straight sets for a reverse sweep win against the Rangers at their home court.
But this time, on the Rangers’ home court, in front of nearly 950 loud, chanting and excited opposing fans, the odds were too great for MSU Denver to overcome. Regis would gain another early lead and, this time, wouldn’t even relent a tie, only allowing the Roadrunners to get within two points before securing the win.
However, the strong RMAC Tournament showing and the major winning streaks in conference play got the attention of the NCAA, who placed the Roadrunners into the South-Central portion of the bracket with a No. 3 seeding. Despite not winning the RMAC championship, Svalberg hopes the team will take the loss as motivation to reach the regional final for a second year in a row.
“It is a learning opportunity,” Svalberg said. “We kind of had the same thing happen last year, and it was one of the best things that could have happened to us. So, we’re just going to take this and learn from it and be better for regionals and just be comfortable as our group and comfortable going into it.”
The bracket strongly favors the three Colorado teams, Regis, Mines and MSU Denver, as all matches will be held at Regis’ campus through the first three rounds. Senior Vasati Fiatoa, one of the team leaders, looks forward to being able to stay comfortable as she enters her final NCAA Tournament with the team.
“It is nice that we’ll be able to do our normal routine,” Fiatoa said. “We won’t have to worry about travelling and remembering to bring all of our stuff. It’s really nice to know we’re coming right up the road.”
The Roadrunners will take on the Lions of Texas A&M – Commerce in the first round of the NCAA South-Central region. The match will take place at Regis University’s north campus at noon on Nov. 30.