College volleyball: Jackrabbits continue to face adversity on road to Summit League Tourney

LEFT: Jackrabbits outside hitter Sylvie Zgonc goes for a kill in the first set against South Dakota at Frost Arena in Brookings on Tuesday night. Zgonc had 17 kills and 12 digs in the Jackrabbits’ regular-season finale. RIGHT: Jackrabbits outside hitter Sydni Schetnan rises for a kill during the second set against South Dakota on Tuesday night. Schetnan led SDSU with a team-high 18 kills in the 3-2 loss. (Chris Schad/Brookings Register)

BROOKINGS — South Dakota State has faced adversity all year, so it would only be fitting ithat they saw it one more time in their regular season finale against South Dakota at Frost Arena on Tuesday night.

The Jacks came out with plenty of energy to take a 2-0 lead, but the Coyotes stormed back and used a dominant fifth set to defeat the Jacks 3-2 ahead of the Summit League Tournament this weekend.

“We talked a lot about the emotional energy going into today,” SDSU head coach Dan Georgalas said. “We know exactly what this game means. We know everything that is riding on the result and it’s tough to not get too hyped up so our message before the match was saving that emotional energy. I thought they did a phenomenal job of that and we just ran out of steam.”

The first set went the way of the Jackrabbits after using a 4-0 run to take a 10-6 lead. The Coyotes responded with a 7-3 run to tie the set at 16-16 but SDSU jumped back in front 22-20 and had set point at 24-22 before Joslyn Richardson and Rylee Martin collided after diving after loose ball and both players had to leave the game.

The Jacks managed their new lineup well at first, winning the first two sets 25-23 to take a 2-0 lead. But after SDSU built a 20-18 in the fourth set, USD scored five of the next six points to take a 23-21 lead.

Sydni Schetnan picked up a pair of kills to tie the set at 23, but Evelyn Diedrich and Kylen Sealock picked up back-to-back kills for the Coyotes to extend the match with a 25-23 victory.

That proved to be a turning point for the Coyotes, who jumped out to a 6-1 run to open the fourth set. Although the Jacks used a 7-2 run to tie the set at 8-8 and build a 23-20 lead late, USD answered again by scoring five straight points to win the fourth set 25-23.

The momentum was too much for the Jacks to overcome at that point as the Coyotes jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the fifth set and wrapped it up with a 15-4 victory. Still, Georgalas was impressed with how his team responded throughout the night.

“This team goes through adversity and everybody in here knows how well we’ve handled that this year,” Georgalas said. “We had two players gushing blood from their heads and we still went up 2-0 and the only other sets we lost were 25-23. To make those lineup changes in the middle of the match and factor in all the adversity we’ve gone through this season…I couldn’t be prouder of how our team responded. Everyone knows how hard our team played and I was very thankful for that.”

Schetnan had a big night for SDSU coming up with 18 kills and five blocks on the front row while Sylvie Zgonc had 17 kills and 12 digs and Katie Van Egdom had eight kills and an ace.

Raegen Reilly led the Jacks with 43 assists, nine digs and two aces while Faith Saewert had two assists and two aces. Masa Scheierman had 13 digs and three assists and Elyse Winter had six blocks.

Sealock led USD with 21 kills while Avery Van Hook had a team-high 58 assists, Kamryn Farris led the Coyotes with 25 blocks and Brynn Paumen had five blocks. Mattie Johnson led USD with a team-high three aces.

The loss dropped the Jacks to 9-18 on the season and 7-9 in Summit League play but they’ve also had hurdles like playing their first month on the road while Frost Arena continued its renovation and several injuries that have left SDSU shorthanded.

“We’re about as healthy as we can get for the home stretch of the season,” Georgalas said. “That brings a lot of confidence back to the group and I think we are playing for each other better than we’ve ever had.”

Georgalas mentioned that they were playing Tuesday night’s game in honor of their lone senior Akeela Jefferson but also has bought into playing their best volleyball at the right time despite the adversity they’ve faced.

That includes a stretch where SDSU won five of seven games including a home win against Kansas City, who entered Tuesday night in a four-way tie along with South Dakota, Omaha and Denver. While North Dakota State holds the fifth-seed, the Jacks are locked into the sixth seed and will wait to find out their opponent as the Roos host St. Thomas and the Pioneers close against Oral Roberts on Wednesday night.

No matter who they wind up playing in the first round, Georgalas and his team are feeling confident heading into the tournament after Tuesday night’s performance.

“We know we are right there with everyone,” Georgalas said. “We know that this has been a crazy year with youth and injuries and other things and we’re going to go in there confident.”