VALLEY CITY, ND  (NewsDakota.com)  Making their first appearance in program history, the Viking volleyball team will advance to pool play in the NAIA national volleyball touranment.

The Vikings put four in double figures for kills and dug 83 balls against a potent Central Methodist University offense, topping the Eagles 3-1 (25-23, 18-25, 25-20, 25-21) Saturday at Puckett Fieldhouse in Fayette, MO.

Valley City State received an at-large bid into the tournament after falling in the North Star Athletic Association semifinals to Bellevue, and have made the appearance, their first ever in the history of Viking volleyball, count.

Bailey Nelson exploded for 17 kills after being held to just two in the third set.  The fifth-year senior did not commit an error in 30 swings, hitting .567 for the match.

Mardi Scutchings, a senior transfer in her first year with the Vikings, fittingly ended the match with a kill from the right pin that smashed a CMU defender before falling to the floor, notching her 13th kill to end a five-of-six point rally that followed a 20-20 tie at the end of the fourth set.

Head coach Michelle Meiklejohn, in her first year with the Vikings, said her team members drove her to buy in to their potential for this run early in the season.

“I didn’t expect that we could be here when the season started.  Sadie (Hansen) told me we could be the best team in our conference, and that made me think we could be pretty good.  Their expectations have been high all season” said Meiklejohn.

The Viking defense was an integral part of fighting off a hard-charging Eagles offense that had the first set stolen from them late, then toppled the Vikings by seven points in the second.  JayCee Richter, the Viking libero and multi-time NSAA Defensive Player of the Week, dug 20 balls, with Delani Clark and Sadie Hansen adding 16 each.  The Vikings outdug CMU 83-69.

“It’s a tremendous feeling,” said Richter.  “We never stopped believing we could get this win, even when they had bigger leads on us early.”

Hansen, who won the NSAA Setter of the Week honors eight times this season, registered 46 more assists.  Emma Lucas added 11 kills, and Morgan Freije, who was dominant factor in the second set, ended with 10.

The Vikings did not lead the first set until the 24-23 mark, trailing by as many as four twice, but took advantage of four Eagles service errors and a late five first-set Scutchings’ kills to take the frame.

Eagles first-team All Heart of America Conference hitter Delaney Miller knocked down four kills in the second, emerging as the top threat for the Eagles in the set.  The Vikings led the set by four early, but the Eagle rally ran away for the seven-point win.

In the third and fourth, the Viking defense began to dictate the pace of the match, causing further errors from CMU.  Eagle setters were called multiple times for ball-handling faults while they attempted to speed up the offense against Richter and Clark in the Viking back row, a factor that would show late in the match.

After taking the third set, the Vikings rolled out to a 14-10 lead, forcing the Eagles into both of their time outs to stem the tide, but the Eagles would respond.  With the match on the line, CMU won 10 of 15 rallies to tie the match at 20, forcing a Vikings time out.

Richter made the save of the match, a third-contact free ball with her back to the net on a sharp angle well outside the left sideline, keeping a play alive.  Danielle Hagler would block the next attack from the Eagles, sending the Vikings to a 23-20 lead.  The Vikings would force set point a rally later, and Scutchings finished the match after two more rallies to end the day.

“I never thought this would be waiting for me when I came here,” said Scutchings.  “I wanted to play here, and it’s been a great experience, and we’re excited to keep playing.”

The Vikings are now 23-9, and will advance to pool play at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, IA November 29th.