January 29, 2023

Dawson County Journal

Dawson County, Nebraska

Lopers Fall at Home to UCM

Kearney, Neb. – The 26th-ranked Central Missouri Jennies rallied to win the opening set and got hot late to down sixth-ranked Nebraska Kearney in five sets (-26, 18-25, 14-25, -22, -7) Friday night at the Health & Sports Center.

UCM (15-8, 10-4) keeps its NCAA Tournament hopes alive and stops the Lopers (22-3, 12-3) five-match win streak. The Jens are 3-2 vs. UNK over the last two years with tonight’s match taking 2:37 thanks to several video challenges and long rallies. 

The Lopers are now in a tie for first place in the MIAA standings with 13th-ranked Northwest Missouri State (18-5). The Bearcats downed Missouri Southern in four sets tonight and host UNK next Saturday afternoon.

UNK might’ve lost the match because of seeing leads of 14-7, 15-10 and 17-12 evaporate in the opening set. UCM came back thanks to 17 kills, four team blocks and four unforced Loper attack errors. The Lopers fought off two set points to have two of its own, 25-24 and 26-25, but the Jens used two kills and a block to go up 1-0 on the score board.

“It was a match of lost opportunities for us. First set you got to win that … you’re up seven points. We had a set point late but didn’t make enough plays,” said UNK head coach Rick Squiers. “We fought hard to get back into a good place especially from a blocking standpoint. We were really in control of things by playing better defense and the offense was just good enough.”

The Lopers had 14 kills in each of the next three sets with UCM having just 20 over the second and third. Once again UNK held leads of 14-7 and recorded two wins this time around as the defense held the Jens to hitting efficiencies of .040 (9-7-50) and .079 (11-8-38). UCM didn’t sit ideally bye as reserve Olivia Olson took over setting duties with freshman middle Jenna Schulte coming in as a new attacker.

“Central Missouri was up to task and playing well. I think their revised lineup gave them more consistent punch offensively,” said Squiers. “The first 10 points of the fourth set we just let off the pedal. It’s frustrating because you can kind of see it. You’re worry about it as a coach … you watch body language in-between sets and you just know they aren’t going to go away.”

Four different Jens had four kills apiece in the fourth as they grabbed early leads of 10-6 and 13-9. UNK came back to lead 16-15 but an 8-3 UCM rally followed that featured several kills from junior outside Kersti Nix. In the fifth, everything went the Jens way including an ace that hit the net and dropped, a free ball pass that landed in the corner for a kill and two service miscues by the Lopers. UNK fell behind 7-3 and didn’t get closer than three points the rest of the way.

“They coached a good match and made adjustments. (Olson) off the bench created a few more problems. She was more aggressive as an attacker and a bigger blocker. In the early going if we were able to make some headway, maybe they don’t get the confidence that had (with her),” said Squiers.

Sophomore outside Tiffany Little was consistent throughout and finished with a double double (18 kills & 10 digs; .298 pct.) while Nix (11 kills, four blocks), sophomore outside Grace Southern (12 kills, four blocks; .407 pct.) and freshman middle Rachel Ziesman (11 kills, five blocks; .333 pct.) warmed up as the match went along. Finally, Olson recorded 21 assists, four kills, three blocks and two digs over the final three sets with libero Grace Winkelmann at a team-best 20 digs.

Outside Emersen Cyza (Alliance) paced UNK again thanks to 23 kills and a .302 efficiency. Off the bench, sophomore outside Asha Regier (Newton, Kan.) had a career-best 13 kills with middles Bailee Sterling (Kearney) and Fallon Stutheit (Johnson) combining for 17. Finally, libero Jensen Rowse (Minden) tied her career-high in digs with 31 while freshman DS Lexi Stephens (Ankeny, Ia.) added 19 more.

The Lopers host Missouri Western State (8-15, 5-10) Saturday at 2 p.m. The Griffons downed Fort Hays State tonight in four sets.

Source: Regional Sports