Kearney, Neb. – Seven different players registered at least two kills and second-ranked Nebraska-Kearney had 69 digs to sweep Oklahoma Baptist (-21, -17, -16) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night at the Health & Sports Center. It was UNK’s first NCAA win since 2012.
The match is part of the ridiculous Central Region which features seven of the nation’s top nine teams. Top-seeded UNK (34-0) advances to the second round on Friday night where it’ll face fourth-seed and eighth-ranked Northern State (25-5). The Wolves swept league rival and seventh-ranked St. Cloud State in its first round match.
Recording its 28th all-time NCAA win and advancing in this tournament for the first time since 2012, UNK out hit OBU (28-6) by a .218-.092 margin, was plus four in the serve game and dug up 15 more balls. Regular season and tournament champions of the Great American Conference, the Bison were making its’ first-ever NCAA appearance and hung with the Lopers for about a set and a half.
“I could not be happier for our players who have had, especially the last part of the season, the bullseye on their back. Had it on there tonight too,” UNK head coach Rick Squiers said. “In the early going we were going blow for blow with a good team but found a way to wrestle control away from them.”
GAC Player of the Year Malia Leatherland, a junior outside hitter, had five of her 10 kills in the first set which featured 12 ties and five lead changes. UNK used a 5-3 run to break a 12-all tie with a kill from junior setting Madison Squiers (Kearney Catholic) capping the spurt and forcing OBU to call timeout. The Lopers led the rest of the way, getting three kills, two blocks and three unforced Bison errors. Outsides Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) and Kamryn Schuler (Gretna) combined for nine of UNK’s 16 kills in this set.
“They really don’t try and fool you. They just lay it up there and move those outsides around … one of their right sides too. They challenge you to stop them and for about half a set we couldn’t stop them,” Squiers said. “We finally got some touches and we also sided out well in the early going and that played a big role in getting us going.”
Kearney out dug OBU 27-14 in the second set and held leads of 7-2, 16-10 and 19-12 before a late Bison charge. Four different Lopers had three kills here with junior right side Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian) serving up two of the team’s six aces. Finally Schuler and junior middle Anna Squiers (Kearney Catholic) had four kills apiece in the third set. UNK broke a seven-all tie thanks to a 5-0 run start began and ended with Squiers kills. The Lopers rolled from there with a kill by Bennington freshman Michaela Bartles ending the match.
“They are more than a worthy opponent. That’s the second time we’ve played them and they create a lot of problems for you. They are super competitive and their outsides do a fantastic job so we feel very fortunate to be moving on to the second round,” Squiers said.
Schuler had a team-high 11 kills with Jackson adding 10, pushing her career total to 995. Next, Bartles had seven kills and hit .412 with Anna Squiers providing six kills, four digs and three blocks. Finally, Madison Squiers had 33 assists, 13 digs, four kills and a block with junior defensive specialist Monique Schafer at 11 digs, many of them early on in key situations.
For OBU, Leatherland reached her 10 kills in 48 swings while also adding 15 digs with freshman Taneyah Brown at 11 kills and three blocks.