SEWARD, Neb. – Freshman Emma Brand found her happy place on Saturday afternoon and the Concordia University volleyball team gutted out tension-filled second and third sets on the way to a 25-20, 29-27, 29-27, victory over visiting Briar Cliff. Brand tossed up 41 assists in spearheading a win that snapped the Bulldogs out of a three-match skid.
Fifth-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad climbed back above .500 at 11-10 overall. Concordia is 3-4 in conference play.
“We faced some adversity, but we responded well every time,” Mattera said. “When they made a play or there was controversy, we moved on and responded to it really well. That was really cool.”
The contest seemed destined for a fourth set when the Chargers mounted a 20-12 lead in the third. That’s when the Bulldogs put together a monstrous rally that saw them pull off nine of the next 10 points to tie it at 21-21. From there it was a fight to the finish. Knotted at 27-27, Brand found Tiegen Skains for a kill and then Taylor Workman for another as Walz Arena erupted.
It was a big-time performance from Brand, who has taken on the setter role since senior Alayna Kavanaugh suffered an injury on the very final play of the loss at No. 17 Doane on Sept. 21.
“I’m definitely more comfortable now,” Brand said. “I’m more comfortable around the girls and setting different paces. I’m getting a feel for the game. Today it felt great. The girls have really helped build me up. We’re having fun as a team. It was just really awesome.”
Brand also teed up Workman’s kill that ended the second set. The Workman thunder in the middle immediately followed both a kill and an ace by freshman Alex La Plant. Brand’s distribution was superb as four different Bulldogs recorded eight or more kills: Paige Getz (15), La Plant (12), Workman (9) and Skains (8). Mikayla Higgins, who also saw time in the middle, contributed six kills on 12 swings.
“This was the best match of her career,” Mattera said of Brand. “When you go for 41 assists in three games, that’s a big number.”
Junior Jocelyn Garcia, already a three-time GPAC defensive player of the week this season, racked up 21 digs from her spot in the middle of the back row. La Plant added 14 digs and freshman Jenna Eller pitched in with 10. Behind a solid defensive effort, Concordia outhit Briar Cliff, .203 to .172.
Like the Bulldogs, the Chargers (8-8, 2-5 GPAC) received votes in the most recent NAIA national coaches’ poll. Briar Cliff got a team high 10 kills from Katelin Langel. The Chargers were sturdy at the net, registering 10 blocks, four of which came from Teerstyn Johnson.
Saturday’s effort was encouraging following a string of matches against top 25 opponents.
“We’ve definitely had some adversity, especially in the past couple of weeks,” Brand said. “Today we just decided we’re going to come out and have fun, play this game we love and play for each other and for God. Today was awesome.”
The Bulldogs will break from conference play on Wednesday for another challenging road trip when they take on No. 18 Bellevue University (16-7). First serve is set for 7 p.m. CT. The Bruins, a member of the NAIA’s North Star Athletic Association, have four wins over ranked foes to their credit. In last season’s meeting, Concordia took care of Bellevue in four sets.