Kearney Neb. – The fifth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team got off to fast starts in each set and used a balanced attack to sweep 11th-ranked Central Oklahoma (-16, -21, -17) Saturday night at the Health & Sports Center. A season-high crowd of 2,063 watched this Top 25 showdown between the Lopers (28-2, 15-1) and Bronchos (26-4, 13-3). With the win, UNK avenges an earlier loss to UCO and remains one game ahead of Missouri Western State (20-9, 14-2) in the MIAA standings.
UNK out hit UCO by nearly 200 points, .215 to .058, as four players had between nine and 10 kills. The Lopers jumped on the ‘Chose early and often, leading the first set 5-0, the second set 3-0 and the final set 2-0.
“This was the one they really wanted to play and the other one (Pittsburg State Friday) was the one they had to play. It showed yesterday and today,” said Loper head coach Rick Squiers. “You worry as a coach, after last night, geez if we play like that it’s going to be tough. But they don’t think like that. They just worry about the one they care about.”
Kearney stormed out of the gates, hitting .289 (15-4-38) in the first set to grab leads of 9-2, 16-10 and 20-12. In this set, outside hitters Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) and Kendall Schroer (Ogallala) both had four kills with freshman right side Anna Squiers (Kearney Catholic) having three in four swings.
“Our staff must’ve talked about that five times in pregame. We really needed something good to happen for us early. Especially in here with a big crowd. Not only for us to feel good but to put a little squeeze on them,” said Squiers. “It looked like the Health & Sports Center was going to be rocking and a tough place to play. To get a play or two early was huge and we did that in every set. That kind of wore on them.”
UCO came back from an early second set deficit to lead 11-8, 13-9 and 15-14 but a second straight kill from senior middle Tara Ziegelbein (Lincoln Lutheran) tied things up again. UNK tallied five of the next seven points, only to see the ‘Chos tie things at 20 on back-to-back Loper hitting errors.
That’s when Squiers took over, having four kills and a combined block with sophomore middle Josie Cox (North Platte) to make it 25-21.
“Anna went on a nice run and made a few of those gym-rat kind of plays. She was in the right place at the right time,” said Squiers. “It’s good she’s becoming confident enough to step up and do that kind of stuff. She wouldn’t have done that earlier in the year.”
The ‘Chos weren’t done, however, as they lead 10-6 in the third set. A Jackson kill knotted things at 10 and forced UCO to call timeout. UNK then took over, moving ahead 17-13 on a kill from junior setter Lindsey Smith (Dakota Dunes, SD). Ziegelbein then went to the service line and stayed there until it was 23-14. During this final fury, Schroer had two kills and a block.
Schroer had a team-high 10 kills with Jackson, Squiers and Ziegelbein each at nine. Squiers (.471) and Jackson (.400) were the most efficient hitters with Smith tallying 34 assists, eight digs, four kills and two blocks.
A sterling back row performance featured 13 digs from junior Morgan Stute (Kearney Catholic), 12 by Jackson, nine by junior libero Ellie McDonnell (Papillion) and eight from freshman Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian). “That’s one thing we’ve done a pretty good job at all year. We’ve got people in the backrow that’ll make a hustle play when you need them to and they don’t give up on a ball,” said Squiers.
That defense helped hold UCO’s Taylor Bevis to a -.132 (6-11-38) hitting efficiency. She came into the week leading the MIAA in kills at over five per set. UNK hosts NAIA Johnson & Wales Sunday afternoon.