SIOUX CITY, IOWA -- Circled together, the 2019 University of Jamestown women's volleyball team ended a historic season with some words, a few laughs and a lot of tears.
Advancing farther into the postseason than any other UJ sports team that had come before, the road ended for the eighth-ranked Jimmies on Saturday in the semifinals of the NAIA national championship tournament at Tyson Events Center. Jamestown fell 3-1 to No. 11-ranked Marian University (Indiana), closing a season that included a Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship and a program-record 33 match victories.
The Jimmies remained huddled for several minutes -- arms wrapped around the next -- listening to both the parting words of head coach Jon Hegerle and the cheers of UJ fans who stayed to the end.
"We were just saying how we wouldn't want to be out there with anyone else," said an emotional Britta Knudson, smiling through watery eyes. "We tried our best and we worked really hard and we were proud of how far we came.
"We were sad that it's over, not that we lost."
As they had all week, the Jimmies battled tough in falling 25-16, 18-25, 25-20, 25-20.
The 38-2 Knights used an 11-2 run in the opening set to open up a nine-point lead at 20-11. Marian's 5-foot-11 freshman middle blocker Jai-Lyn Norwood already had three of her team-high 16 kills by that point, running a slide to the right with setter Madi Heffron.
Marian finished the tournament at a perfect 7-0, sweeping Westmont (California) 25-20, 25-20, 25-21 for the 2019 national championship Saturday night. Westmont, a team UJ defeated 3-1 in championship pool play on Wednesday, swept Viterbo (Wisconsin) 25-9, 25-22, 25-20 in Saturday's second national semifinal.
"Jamestown's a phenomenal team," said eight-year Marian head coach Ashlee Pritchard, who led the Knights to the program's first championship after being away from her team for a couple of weeks earlier this season with a newborn baby. "They've got a super-fast offense. We thought they matched up really well, with kind of similar a game plan that we have.
"Our team plays with a lot of energy and so does Jamestown. That was a super hard-fought match by both teams, but (I) just could not be more proud of our team."
The Jimmies hit at clip of .311 en route to a 25-18 win in the second, with Knudson kicking off 4-0 run with one of senior middle blocker's six kills midway through the frame. The Knights edged ahead late in the fourth to lead 20-16 after a kill by Heffron, and tied 20-20 in the fourth, Marian's Skyler Van Note kicked off a match-winning 5-0 run with one of her 10 kills.
UJ's Isabel Wedell (14 kills) and Taylor Sabinash (13) combined for 27 kills, while Sydney Ellingson (24 digs), Anna Holen (22) and Hannah Schiele (20) teamed up for 66 of UJ's 102 digs.
"There was never a time I thought we were hanging our heads," said UJ head coach Jon Hegerle. "What went wrong is (Marian) did a lot of things that we don't see. I'm just proud of our players. There's no shame in coming in here and doing what we did."
Jimmie volleyball was making the university's first appearance in an NAIA national championship semifinal, defeating 2017 national champion Lindsey Wilson (Kentucky) and 2015 national champion Columbia (Missouri) in the process. The week-long tournament began with pool play on Tuesday, and by Saturday the Jimmies had played a grueling 25 sets of volleyball spanning six matches and a single-set tiebreaker.
UJ's 25-19 tiebreak win over Columbia on Thursday began at 10:45 p.m. Jamestown also defeated No. 2 Northwestern College (Iowa) in four sets past 11 p.m. on Friday, before Saturday's 11 a.m. meeting with Marian.
The volleyball careers of seniors Knudson, Wedell, Jordan Thomas and Miranda Lowman, along with junior Ellie Michaletz, came to a close with the loss. Michaletz is graduating from UJ a year-and a-half early later this month.
"The most disappointing part is not that we weren't in this national championship. The most disappointing part is it's over with this tremendous group," Hegerle said. "There were some tears, as there should be, but I don't think we understand the ripple effect of what happened here in families and communities around North Dakota and northern Minnesota. It's just pretty cool."
Knudson led the NAIA in 2019 with 184 blocks, second-most in program history for a single season. Knudson's .345 attacking percentage on the season is seventh-best by a Jimmie, and she was also named to the 2019 national all-tournament team.
UJ junior libero Sydney Ellingson recorded the sixth-most digs by a Jimmie in a single season with 663. Knudson and Ellingson were two of 11 North Dakota athletes on the Jimmies' varsity roster.
"This season is way better than we ever imagined," Knudson said. "Past seasons and everything preparing us for this moment. And, our fans. That was unreal.
"It just showed that North Dakota has our back."
(11) Marian University (Indiana) 3, (8) University of Jamestown 1
MU 25 18 25 25
UJ 16 25 20 20
MU -- Kills: Jai-Lyn Norwood 16, Sarah Spangler 14, Brooke Hustedde 11, Skyler Van Note 10, Madi Heffron 5, Anne Strevels 5, Lexi Spence. Assists: Spence 27, Heffron 24, Megan Hawley 3, Van Note 2, Maddie Keerns 2, Maggie Meyer. Aces: Van Note, Meyer. Digs: Hawley 30, Van Note 22, Keersn 13, Meyer 11, Spene 11, Hustedde 7, Norwood 4, Heffron 3, Spangler 2, Strevels 2. Blocks: Norwood 3, Strevels 2, Van Note.
UJ -- Kills: Isabel Wedell 14, Taylor Sabinash 13, Corina Ruud 5, Britta Knudson 6, Anna Holen 5, Jordan Thomas 3, Miranda Lowman 2, Ellie Michaletz 2. Assists: Lowman 22, Jackie Meiklejohn 20, Holen 2, Hannah Schiele, Sydney Ellingson, Ruud, Meiklejohn. Aces: Lowman, Schiele. Digs: Ellingson 24, Holen 22, Schiele 20, Lowman 17, Meiklejohn 12, Wedell 3, Sabinash 2, Thomas. Blocks: Ruud 2, Thomas 1.5, Knudson 1.5, Michaletz 1 Wedell 1, Sabinash 1.
Records: Marian 37-2. Jamestown 33-6.