Wildcats upset No. 1 Duluth

Northern Michigan University senior defensive specialist Rachel Braunschweig, bottom, dives to get a dig as teammate Leticia Antunes, right, scrambles to keep the ball in play during a match against Minnesota-Crookston at the Wildcat Open held in Vandament Arena in Marquette on Friday. Also converging on the play is Wildcats’ freshman libero Alli Yacko. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

By Journal Sports Staff

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University volleyball team might find it difficult to come up with a fitting encore today after Friday’s opening day of the Wildcat Open.

After starting the day with a three-set sweep of Minnesota-Crookston in the afternoon, Northern pulled off a stunning four-set upset of the No. 1 team in NCAA Division II, Minnesota-Duluth.

Michigan Tech was able to steal a bit of the Wildcats’ thunder, however, as earlier in the day the Huskies also upset UMD in a three-set sweep.

Nevertheless, NMU still improved to 6-0 this season, their best start since a 17-0 beginning to the 2010 season that saw the Wildcats make the NCAA Division II tournament.

Northern opened with the win over Crookston, 25-16, 25-15, 25-13 before handing Duluth defeat, 25-23, 25-15, 16-25, 25-23.

Sophomore Leticia Antunes paced NMU’s offense with 32 kills over the two matches, attacking at a .347 clip. Against the Bulldogs, she totaled 21 kills and a .314 hitting percentage.

Senior teammate Autumn Monsma added 20 kills, 11 coming against UMD. Junior Sarah Kuehn had seven against Duluth for a total of 19, while senior Maggie Liebeck, tournament MVP at the Illinois-Springfield Capital Classic last weekend, posted seven kills in each match.

Their senior teammate, Lynzi Svoboda, notched 72 assists, 40 against UMD.

Defensively, NMU senior Rachel Braunschweig totaled 25 digs as Svoboda had 20. Against the Bulldogs, the pair each tallied 12. Monsma chipped in with 16 digs all day, nine vs. UMD. Antunes had 10 in the nightcap and freshman Alli Yacko posted nine against UMD.

At the net, Kuehn notched 11 total blocks with six coming against Duluth. Svoboda finished with eight blocks on the day, including four against the Bulldogs.

In the Minnesota-Duluth match, the opening set was close until NMU reeled off four straight points to take a 16-10 lead. The Bulldogs answered with a 9-1 run for a 20-18 lead as the set seesawed until the end. Northern clinched it with a pair of Antunes kills and the final point on a Liebeck kill.

The Wildcats quickly opened up a big lead in set No. 2, going ahead 8-2 and opening the spread to 11 at 21-10 before clinching it. UMD turned the tables in the following set, jumping out to a quick lead and keeping Northern at arm’s length for the win.

Duluth led for much of the fourth and final set, including at 11-6, before NMU tied it 18-18 on a service ace by Monsma. The score was still tied 23-23 before a pair of errors by the Bulldogs ended it.

In the sweep of Crookston, the Wildcats used nine straight points served by Monsma to turn a 7-6 advantage into a laugher. Much the same happened in the second and third sets.

Northern’s matches today are against St. Cloud State (Minnesota) at 1 p.m. and Bemidji State (Minnesota) at 7 p.m.

The entire tourney wraps up with eight matches today, starting at 9 a.m. with Northwood facing Minnesota-Crookston and new matches beginning every two hours until the Wildcats’ final match.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.