Kearney, Neb. – The third-ranked Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team got off to a fast start and registered a season-high 14 blocks to sweep 11th-ranked Central Missouri (-11, -22, -21) Friday night in an MIAA Tournament semifinal match at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers (32-2) look to repeat as tourney champs when they face 10th-ranked Washburn Saturday at 6 p.m. in the finals. The Ichabods, who’ve handed UNK both of its loses this fall, beat 16th-ranked Central Oklahoma in four sets (23-25, -18, -19, -13) to advance.
“We tell our team any win at the point of the season is a good one,” said Loper head coach Rick Squiers. “It was an interesting match because I don’t think they were themselves for a good stretch at the beginning. We took full advantage of that … we played clean and did a lot of good things, especially on defense.”
To beat UCM (25-7) for the second time this season, the Lopers hit .429 (13-1-28) in the first set to roll. Its defense was also solid, holding the Jennies to a -.053 (7-9-38) efficiency in set one. Six of UCM’s hitting errors were of the unforced variety.
UNK roared out to a 20-8 lead in the second set before UCM got off the mat, dusted itself off and went on a 13-3 run. The Lopers got two kills from junior middle Mackenzie Puckett (Grand Island H.S.) down the stretch to stave off the comeback attempt and win by three.
“They came to life late in the second set and a lot of it was them making a bunch of defensive plays. We got a little frustrated, a little impatient, started doing things wehadn’t done all night. So we found ourselves in a little bit of a mess down the stretch,” said Squiers. “But veteran players have a better chance to work themselves out of that and we did that.”
The third set featured seven ties and three lead changes with Kearney breaking a 19-all tie thanks to a 4-2 spurt. This stretch included two kills by senior outside KendallSchroer (Ogallala). Later, another Schroer kill ended the match.
“We knew the third set would be back and forth. We saw the better side of Central Missouri, the side that capable of beating anyone, in the second half of the match.
Six Lopers had at least one block with junior outside Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) and sophomore right side Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian) have two solo stuff apiece. Wolfe and Puckett tied for the team lead (six) with the 14.0 blocks marking the fourth time this year UNK reached double digits.
Offensively, UNK hit .159 and tallied 38 kills. Schroer and Jackson both had nine with Puckett at seven and hitting a team-high .389. In the backrow, seniors Morgan Stute(Kearney Catholic) and Ellie McDonnell (Papillion) dug up 23 and 26 balls, respectively.
UCM was paced by libero Carly Offerdahl (34 digs), Audrey Fisher (10 kills and four blocks) and Roca native Kylie Hohlen (16 digs and nine kills).