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SACRAMENTO -- Sacramento State closed the third set on a 12-0 run, and the fourth set on a 9-2 run to eventually defeat Northern Colorado, 3-1 (21-25, 25-14, 25-16, 27-25), in the Big Sky Volleyball Tournament quarterfinal round on Thursday evening at the Nest.
The Hornets, who earned the right to host the tournament after winning the Big Sky's regular season championship, advance to the semifinal round where they will play Portland State tomorrow night at 7 p.m. Portland State, the No. 4 seed, knocked off No. 5 Northern Arizona in four sets to advance. In tomorrow's first semifinal at 4:30 p.m., No. 2 North Dakota will face No. 3 Idaho as the higher seed won all four quarterfinal matches today. North Dakota defeated No. 7 Weber State in four sets, and Idaho swept No. 6 Idaho State.
The eight-team, single elimination tournament will conclude on Saturday with the championship match taking place at 8 p.m. The winner of the tournament title receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Sacramento State has now won six straight matches after winning its final five regular season contests. In addition, the Hornets have won 25 straight matches at home against Big Sky teams dating back to the beginning of the 2015 season. In 17 appearances at the Big Sky Tournament since joining the league in 1996, the Hornets have now advanced to at least the semifinal round 16 times.
Sacramento State improved its overall record to 25-8, as the program hit the 25-win mark for the 21st time in school history, and ninth time during the Div. I era (1991-pres.). Northern Colorado, which was the No. 8 seed, sees its season come to an end with a 14-16 record.
The Bears didn't make things easy for the Hornets, winning the first set, 25-21, and holding sizeable leads of 15-11 in the third set and 23-18 in the fourth set. However, Sacramento State, aided by the energy of nearly 600 patrons in attendance, stormed back to win both frames and eventually take the match. During Sacramento State's 14-1 run to close the third, Skyler Takeda served 11 straight points. In the fourth set, the Hornets saved a set point at 24-25, getting a kill from Shannon Boyle, a Kennedy Kurtz ace and a Bear attack error in succession.
The Hornets limited Northern Colorado to a .139 hitting percentage which included 29 errors in 158 attacks. The Bears failed to hit above .143 during each of the final three sets. Sacramento State hit .240 and took advantage of nine team blocks and 11 aces. Six different Hornets had aces, including a career-best four from Brie Gathright, two each from Mikaela Nocetti and Takeda, and one from both Kurtz and Brigitte Murdock. Gathright had a run of three consecutive aces during the first set.
Boyle led the Hornets with 16 kills and 15 digs, while fellow outside hitter Nocetti finished with 14 kills, nine digs, three blocks and a .273 hitting percentage. Rightside hitter Sarah Davis had seven kills and two blocks, middle blocker Lana Brown had five kills and four blocks, and Gathright finished with four kills, four aces and three blocks.
Kurtz, who was named the Big Sky's MVP earlier today, had three kills, a .500 hitting percentage, 42 assists, one ace, 11 digs and three blocks. Takeda had a career-best 16 digs, and unleashed a potent serve that threw Northern Colorado out of their offense every time she stepped to the service line. Murdock finished with 12 digs.
Four Northern Colorado players had double figures in kills, comprised of Emily O'Neil (13 kills, .400 hitting percentage), Alex Koehn (13 kills, four blocks), Kortney Lockey (12 kills, 17 digs) and Kim Weissmann (10 kills).