Kearney, Neb. – Outside hitters Emersen Cyza and Asha Regier combined for 21 kills and defensive specialist Rhianna Wilhelm had a long match-closing service run to help 12th-ranked Nebraska Kearney sweep Pittsburg State (-22, -18, -17) Thursday night at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers improve to 25-4 (15-4) and take the season series from the Gorillas (15-13, 9-10). UNK is aiming to finish second in the MIAA with Pitt currently in sixth place. The eight-team MIAA Tournament begins next Thursday in St. Joseph, Mo., with pairings announced Saturday night after the completion of the regular season.
In a match with 18 ties and six lead changes, UNK managed to take all three sets but it wasn’t easy as the Gorillas never went away. Cyza (Alliance) and freshman outside Emilee Lane (Hays, Kan.) both hit over .250 with the Lopers at .221 as a team. Both squads had five blocks with UNK recording 10 more digs and 10 more kills.
“We were able to make one or two more defensive plays, especially in the first set when we had to. We didn’t have any blocks (in the first set) but we got a few good block touches down the stretch that allowed us to run transition offense back at them and score,” said UNK head coach Rick Squiers.
The Lopers finished the first set on a 5-2 run with Kearney middle Bailee Sterling having three straight kills and then Cyza having two in a row to make it 1-0 on the scoreboard. She had seven of her match-high 12 kills in this set with UNK recording 18 of its 47 kills.
“The other two sets were just a matter of both teams trading punches until somebody was able to get a little bit of a gap. We were able to get one in both sets but gave one back in the second which was discouraging,” said Squiers.
The second set was a bit more comfortable for the Lopers as they jumped out to a 6-1 lead and eventually had advantages of 15-10 and 20-15. Pitt did get within 20-18 thanks to a kill from Meg Auten but a service error killed their momentum. UNK scored the next five points, one being a Sterling kill and one being an ace from Wilhelm (Henderson).
She came up big in the third as the Gorillas erased a 12-10 deficit to lead 13-12. By the time Wilhelm left the service line, it was 23-14 Lopers. The run started with a Pitt service error and featured six kills, one block and three unforced Gorilla errors.
“Rhianna got on a big service run and we did a good job of getting blocks in that rotation. Crazy thing, that’s one of their better rotations. Their best outside on the left, their best right side on the right. Somehow, we were able to score a bunch,” said Squiers.
Lane continued her late season push by having six kills in 19 attempts (.263) with Regier (Newton, Kan.) coming off the bench in each set to having nine kills in 25 swings. Cyza reached her kill tally in a match-high 36 attacks.
Next, Minden libero Jensen Rowse had a match-best 23 digs with Iowa freshman DS Lexi Stephens perfect in 21 serve receive chances. Finally, Sterling had nine kills, seven digs and three blocks.
“I really liked what Emilee did tonight. In addition to getting some points, she didn’t error a lot and put the ball in play when it wasn’t a kill. She comes off the net and plays pretty good defense at times and even had to knock a serve or two in tonight because we were out of subs,” said Squiers.
Pitt was paced by Auten’s 11 kills and 11 digs with Phoenix Bailey hitting .368 to finish with nine kills and two blocks.
UNK hosts Missouri Southern State (13-154) Friday at 6 p.m. The Lions own four wins over nationally-ranked squads this fall (Washburn twice, Central Missouri and Central Oklahoma).
Source: Regional Sports
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