Kearney, Neb. – Middle blockers Mackenzie Puckett and Tara Ziegelbein combined for 24 kills and seven blocks to help fifth-ranked Nebraska Kearney sweep pesky Emporia State (-24, -14, -20) Saturday afternoon at the Health & Sports Center.
UNK (13-1, 2-0) has won 10 straight and pushes its home court win streak to 42 in a row.
The first set was a barn burner as it featured nine ties and six lead changes. The teams combined for 20 attack errors, 12 of the unforced variety, and four service miscues.
Emporia was up 18-14 but the Lopers went on a 10-4 run to grab the lead back. Back-to-back kills by Ziegelbein (Lincoln Lutheran) and another from junior outside Kendall Schroer (Ogallala) made it 23-22 and then sophomore right side Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) served up an ace.
However, the Hornets fought off two match points thanks to two kills. UNK finally closed the door on the strength of a Schroer kill and a block by Ziegelbein and junior setter Lindsey Smith (Dakota Dunes, S.D.).
Hitting .138 on the day, UNK controlled the next two sets but a big E-State squad hung around in each one. They finished the match with 10.0 blocks, 61 digs and a .083 hitting efficiency.
“Our middles did a heckuva job and we played great defense. But you can’t hit under .200 and feel like you’re going to be a contender,” said UNK head coach Rick Squiers.
Ziegelbein had 14 kills, five blocks and four digs with Puckett (Grand Island H.S.) tallying 10 kills, two stuff and a match-high .421 attack percentage. She came off the disabled list last night in the second set when UNK swept No. 25 Washburn.
“Mackenzie is a great example of someone who just doesn’t error. She never takes a big booming swinging at the ball and doesn’t have that world class arm swing that some do but she plays high, she’s patient and willing to take tip kills, junk kills,” said Squiers.
Also for UNK, Jackson had 15 digs, three blocks and four kills with juniors Morgan Stute (Kearney Catholic) and Ellie McDonnell (Papillion-LaVista) combining for 28 digs.
“Emporia has a good solid team. They create some problems with their size, they run a 6-2 so they are a good blocking team. And we have to get better on the left,” said Squiers. “I don’t think it’s a talent thing or a physical thing. We have to find a way to score points on the left without making errors. We got blocked too much tonight and had too many unforced errors. Until we fix them, we’re vulnerable.”
UNK heads to Fort Hays State (8-7, 0-1) Tuesday night that match can be heard on 93.1 KRVN FM and krvn.com.