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Kearney, Neb. – The third-ranked Nebraska-Kearney got out to a 9-3 lead in the fifth set and then hung on to beat 10th-ranked Washburn, 16-14, to win the 2018 MIAA Tournament Championship Saturday night at the Health & Sports Center.
UNK (33-2) dropped both regular season matches to the Ichabods (29-4) but is now an unprecedented 8-0 in five set matches after tonight’s victory (-23, -20, 13-25, 21-25, -14).
The Lopers, winning the MIAA tourney for the third consecutive season, will likely host the Central Regional of the NCAA Tournament next weekend (Nov. 15-17). The 64-team NCAA field and the eight regional hosts will be revealed Sunday at 9 p.m. at www.ncaa.com.
“We could not be more proud of our girls. We didn’t play well in sets three and four and momentum was completely lost at the point. They dug down a little bit deeper and refused to give up. It’s been that kind of a team all year,” said Loper head coach Rick Squiers. “We just find a way to win. It’s fun to be a part of that.”
As it has it done in many a match this season, UNK won despite having fewer kills, digs and blocks than its’ opponent. Washburn had 18 more kills, nine more team blocks and dug up 11 more balls. The ‘Bods also hit 54 points higher than the Lopers but also committed five more attack errors.
“Going into the fifth we talked about how we’ve been pretty good at this all year. Regardless of how we got to this point, you get to play one 15 point set on your home floor to try and win the championship,” said Squiers. “We played a little better at the end of the fourth so we felt good about our chances and then we got off to a great start.”
In the fifth set UNK scored the first three points and then was up 9-3 after a service ace by sophomore right side Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian). Washburn smashed home 21 kills in the fourth set to tie up the match but the Lopers closed that set on a 9-5 run to regain some momentum and start feeling good again.
WU, in its first five setter of the fall, scored five straight to make it a one point deficit at 9-8 but Kearney responded with a 5-3 spurt that featured three kill by senior outside Kendall Schroer (Ogallala). But the ‘Bods didn’t go down easily, going on a 3-0 run and tying things up with a block by Allison Maxwell and Shayla Conner.
A kill from sophomore middle Anna Squiers (Kearney Catholic) allowed UNK to reach match point once more and then senior defensive specialist Morgan Stute (Kearney Catholic) went back to serve. Washburn was setting up for an attack on the outside but Conner’s set went long and the Lopers rushed the court.
“Our team knew exactly what was at stake. They were full away of what was happening in the other conferences and I think they wanted to grind one out and get a chance to play an NCAA match here,” said Squiers.
Schroer had three of her team-high 14 kills in the fifth. She swung 55 times and added four blocks at the net. UNK managed 11.0 team blocks with the majority coming over the first two sets. Squiers (eight) and Wolfe (four) joined Schroer as Lopers with at least four.
Next, UNK had five players between four and nine kills including Squiers, Wolfe and junior outside Emma Benton (G.I. Central Catholic). Finally, Stute (21) and Papillion senior libero Ellie McDonnell (23) combined for 44 digs.
Washburn was paced by Allison Maxwell (19 kills & 10 blocks), Makayla Maxwell (11 kills, eight blocks & .333 pct.) and Gena Berg (16 kills & 18 digs).
“For someone who has done this a long time, my heart goes out to Washburn a little bit. That’s an awfully tough one to lose and their kids played fantastic volleyball. They didn’t give up down 2-0 and we were very fortunate to win that darn thing,” said Squiers.
UNK has now won 10 conference tourney titles in the Squiers era (1999-present).