Jon Hegerle was able to coax the best out of junior middle blocker Corina Ruud on Wednesday night at Harold Newman Arena. The veteran University of Jamestown women's volleyball coach used the time-honored tradition in the clutch of pointing to the obvious.
"I said to her, 'Hit the ball,'" Hegerle exclaimed after the eighth-ranked Jimmies topped Concordia University 3-2 in the semifinals of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament. "Then she goes up and just pounds it straight down and I said, 'Why would you do anything different?'"
The 6-foot-1 Ruud was ... well, rude, to the 16th-ranked Bulldogs in the fifth set. Ruud slammed home a pair of her team-high 12 kills and blocked Concordia's Camryn Opfer down to the floor during a critical 6-3 UJ run that ended the final frame 15-13 in favor of the Jimmies.
Jamestown (28-4) will host College of Saint Mary (24-13) this Saturday at 7 p.m. in the championship match of the GPAC tournament. Ruud said she plans on keeping her attack simple against the Flames after Hegerle got on her for maybe overthinking a few soft attempts against the Bulldogs.
"He said don't do anything different but hit the ball," Ruud laughed.
After eking out a 15-7, fifth-set match win over Concordia on Oct. 31 in Seward, Nebraska, the Jimmies knew the Bulldogs were going to battle, which they did by dominating the opening frame 25-18. The Jimmies hit negative (-0.032) and mustered just six kills, while Concordia's offense was on cruise control with Opfer, Emmie Noyd, Arleigh Costello, Kalee Wiltfong and Kara Stark each finding the floor three times for 15 of the Bulldogs' 16 kills in the frame.
But Jimmie senior Isabel Wedell inspired in the second. The right-side hitter from Ellendale, North Dakota, erupted for six of her eight kills, including four during a 12-4 UJ run that ended the frame 25-16 Jimmies. The 5-11 Wedell was weaving balls through the block of 6-2 junior outside Stark (14 kills) and 6-2 senior middle Noyd (13) who combined for 27 kills on the night. Noyd earned All-GPAC second-team honors in 2018.
"She's just tipping it right over her fingernails, using it off the block, hitting through a seam, deep corners," Hegerle said of Wedell. "She's been really good."
But what was going on in set No. 1?
"I think we were thinking a little too much about Saturday and we were a little on our heels," Wedell said. "We were just, like, we've gotta focus on what's happening now and we did."
Wedell has proven to be a clutch postseason performer for the Jimmies and admits she feels no pressure to perform when the lights are the brightest. UJ's win over Concordia set a new single-season program record in match victories for the Jimmies at 28.
"I just get so excited to get after it," Wedell said. "I know my team is going to get after it, too, so I don't feel pressure like I have to perform. I just want to perform for them."
Jamestown kept the pressure on in the third, rolling up four service aces before winning 25-15. The Bulldogs bit back 25-20 in the fourth, using a late 5-1 spurt to close.
Second-year Concordia coach Ben Boldt has turned around a nine-win program two years ago with a breakout 23 victories this fall. Concordia should be in line to receive an at-large bid into the NAIA national tournament.
"Our players know what they sign up for when they sign up to play in the GPAC," Boldt said. "It's a great conference and these are the situations we want our players to be in.
"This is a great teaching moment for our program and for our players. It's gonna help us be better in the end."
Jamestown didn't lead the fifth until senior middle Britta Knudson blocked the freshman Wiltfong to hand the Jimmies a 7-6 advantage. Trailing 10-9, Wedell's final kill of the night tied the score before Ruud sent the crowd into a frenzy. UJ sophomore setter Jackie Meiklejohn (21 assists) found Ruud for both of her late spikes, the latter of which had Jamestown leading 13-12.
UJ senior setter Miranda Lowman (20 assists) then found Knudson in the middle for her sixth kill of the match and the Jimmies never looked back. The Jimmies' Sydney Ellingson finished with 25 digs, while Knudson scored five total blocks.
"That was crazy," Ruud said. "Honestly, though, it was because of our passers and our setters. Our setter, Jackie, she's incredible and she knows where those blockers are. She just made some really awesome decisions when setting tonight."
The Jimmies will be facing arguably the hottest team in the country this Saturday at Newman Arena in eighth-seeded College of Saint Mary. After falling to the Jimmies 3-1 in the final match of the regular season on Nov. 6, Saint Mary has knocked off No. 1-ranked Northwestern College 3-1 and No. 21-ranked Midland University 3-0 to earn a date in the title match.
"I didn't want to play them the first time, and everybody thought it was nuts," Hegerle said. "They're a good team and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now. It should be a good match."
The winner receives an automatic berth into the national tournament, which begins with opening-round matches on Nov. 23. Northwestern (28-1) is already locked in as the GPAC's regular-season champion.
"Just getting into a groove and play for us," Ruud said. "That's what we've been focused on because we know we can do anything if we believe in each other."
"We're so excited," Wedell added. "It's an honor to be in the championship."
GPAC Volleyball Semifinals
(8) University of Jamestown 3, (16) Concordia University (Neb.) 2
CU 25 16 15 20 13
UJ 18 25 25 25 15
CU -- CU -- Kills: Kara Stark 14, Kalee Wiltfong 13, Emmie Noyd 13, Camryn Opfer 12, Arleigh Costello 9, Tara Callahan 2. Assists: Callahan 49. Aces: Raymi Marquardt, Kaci Hohenthaner, Tristin Mason. Digs: Marissa Hoerman 19, Opfer 12, Kaylie Dengel 11, Callahan 10, Erin Johnson 11.
UJ -- UJ -- Kills: Corina Ruud 12, Isabel Wedell 8, Ellie Michaletz 6, Britta Knudson 6, Jordan Thomas 6, Taylor Sabinash 5, Miranda Lowman 2, Anna Holen, Jackie Meiklejohn. Assists: Meiklejohn 21, Lowman 20. Aces: Wedell 2, Meiklejohn, Holen, Lowman. Digs: Sydney Ellingson 25, Holen 12, Hannah Schiele 8, Wedell 7, Thomas 4, Meiklejohn 4, Lowman 3, Sabinash 2, Michaletz. Blocks: Knudson 5, Sabinash 2.5, Ruud 2, Wedell .5.
Records: Jamestown 28-4. Concordia 23-6.
(RV) College of Saint Mary 3, (21) Midland 0 (29-27, 28-26, 25-20).
UP NEXT: GPAC Volleyball Championship vs. College of Saint Mary (24-13), Saturday, Nov. 16, at Harold Newman Arena, 7 p.m.