USD Volleyball Set To Face Houston In NCAA Tournament
On Friday, The University of South Dakota volleyball team will compete in its fourth NCAA Tournament over the last five seasons.
After sweeping the Summit League Tournament, defeating both Denver and Omaha in straight sets, the Coyotes are set to play the No. 23 ranked Houston Cougars in Omaha.
Coach Leanne Williamson’s team finished the regular season and the Summit League Tournament with a combined record of 29-3. Leading the team on offense was Elizabeth Juhnke who finished the regular season as the NCAA leader in total kills and points scored.
“[Juhnke’s] importance to the team goes beyond just her offense,” Williamson said. “She's playing a much higher level of defense right now, she blocks the ball at a high level at the net, and she's one of our main serve receivers. With that, you see her impacting the game in multiple areas.”
Friday’s matchup with Houston will see the Coyotes play a team with more height and length than the Summit League provides. Early matchups with teams like the No. 4 ranked Louisville Cardinals back in August may prove crucial to the Coyotes preparedness going into the game.
“I do think the teams that we played this year have absolutely prepared us for the NCAA tournament,” Williamson said. “All those different experiences can definitely make us better. And I think that most, if not all of those matches throughout the season kind of prepared us in different ways for this moment.”
Making the tournament four of the last five seasons gives players the opportunity to compete in multiple NCAA Tournaments over their college careers. This experience can help ease nerves heading into these types of games.
“Our two seniors Lolo [Weideman] and Aimee [Adams], Elizabeth Juhnke and Madison Harms, they’ve all been to the NCAA Tournament multiple times,” Williamson said. “They know what it takes or have learned what mistakes we've made in the past and know how to approach that game. So, I think they're going to be able to help our underclassmen who maybe haven't had those opportunities yet.”
One underclassman who has stepped up to take some of the offensive load off Juhnke’s shoulders is sophomore outside hitter, Kylen Sealock. Sealock was injured earlier in the season but had a strong final few weeks of the season to help the Coyotes win the Summit League. Williamson attributes these types of emergences to the depth of her team.
Friday’s game will be held in the D.J. Sokol Arena in the Wayne and Eileen Ryan Athletic Center in Omaha, just a few hours from Vermillion. The Coyotes have played an exhibition game in the arena this season against Creighton, the host of the subregional.
“You know, we played there, we know what that looks like, we know what it feels like,” Williamson said. “And I do think that comfort level can make a difference for us.”
Friday’s opening round against Houston will begin at 3:30 pm CT on ESPN+. The winner of Houston vs USD will play the winner of Creighton vs Auburn on Saturday at 6:30 pm CT.