PENSACOLA, FLA. - The greatest current dynasty in Minnesota college sports is still going strong. But not without a scare.
The Concordia-St. Paul women's volleyball team captured its sixth straight NCAA Division II championship on Saturday night in an epic match against Tampa University in which four of the five sets were decided by two points. The Golden Bears dropped the first two sets before rallying for a 27-29, 17-25, 25-23, 25-23, 16-14 victory.
The championship streak ties the all-time collegiate volleyball record for all divisions. Washington-St. Louis won six straight Division III titles from 1991 through 1996. By far, this one was the hardest.
"We have great kids that give you everything they've got," coach Brady Starkey said. "It's a privilege, to be a part of something so amazing, to be honest I can't even fathom. We don't look in terms of wins and losses. We look at the type of kids they are and how hard they work every day. I'd just like to be able to show people how hard they work every day."
Concordia took the third set by winning the final three points, and it trailed almost the entire fourth set. The Bears took their first lead at 22-21.
Match point in the final frame came on a kill by Ashley Murtha.
Senior Ellie Duffy had 23 kills for the Bears (33-4), and junior Amanda Konetchy produced 72 assists -- the fifth highest total in a single match in school history. Kayla Koenecke posted 20 kills and 15 digs her 13th double-double of the season. Murtha led the defense with 18 digs.
Concordia has won 36 consecutive NCAA tournament matches as it improved its all-time tournament record to 44-4 in 10 appearances. It is 6-1 in seven trips to the national championship, all under the direction of Starkey.
Tampa (32-4) lost to Concordia in the championship match for the second time in three years.
Concordia shows no signs that its reign is about to end. Four Golden Bears received first- or second-team Division II All-America honors this season, and two of them were juniors: Koenecke and Konetchy, both three-time honorees.
Seniors Duffy and Cassie Haag were also honored, and the two are among only three seniors on the Golden Bears roster.
Starkey, who has a record of 339-30 in 10 seasons at Concordia, annually fields teams loaded with former Minnesota high school players, and his latest national champion was no exception. Of the 16 players on this year's roster, 14 are Minnesotans, and two are from Wisconsin.
Minnesota can claim to be the capital of women's college volleyball, having won two of the three 2012 NCAA championships. St. Thomas captured the Division III national title a week ago.
• This was the third year Concordia and Tampa met in the national tournament. Concordia defeated Tampa 3-0 last year in the semifinals, and in 2010, the Bears won 3-1 for the national championship. Concordia leads the all-time series 6-3 and holds a 3-1 advantage in postseason matches.
• The championship match featured seven All-Americas, including Tampa's Danielle Selkridge, who was the Division II Player of the Year.