Kearney, NE -- Three players had double digit kill total to help third-ranked Nebraska-Kearney sweep Missouri Western State (-15, -20, -21) Tuesday night in an MIAA Tournament first round match at the Health & Sports Center.
The Lopers (31-2), the top-seed in the eight-team tournament, will host the semifinals and finals this Friday and Saturday. UNK will face either Central Missouri or Northwest Missouri State on Friday at seven; the other semifinal begins at 4 p.m. Winners will play Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5 each day.
Last year UNK went 2-2 against MWSU (15-17), falling to the Griffons in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. To return the favor, the Lopers outhit Mo West by nearly 200 points tonight and had 19 more kills.
"Coming in we picked out a few things we could improve on from the last match. They really emphasized getting the ball to their middles last Friday … our hope was we could do a better job of getting in front of those people and I thought we did early. And, as a whole, we did a great job defensively. We made it difficult on them all night."
Senior outside Kendall Schroer (12), junior middle Mackenzie Puckett (11) and junior outside Julianne Jackson (10) combined for 33 of UNK's 49 kills. The Lopers hit a sparkling .405 (18-3-37) in the first set and then invariable cooled off.
"I didn't count on us hitting as well as we did in the first set and then not hitting well in the next two. It turned out the defense became important in sets two and three because they found their block and shut a few of our things down. We really had to slog it out to win some rallies."
The match featured 13 ties and seven lead changes with Mo West erasing a 7-3 deficit in the second set to tie things up at 11. UNK responded with an 8-2 stretch to regain control and then had an 8-4 spurt late in the third.
"We were off the charts offensively in the first set and they couldn't keep up with us. Early in the second it looked like we might put them away but then they had that one rotation where we got stuck and didn't get out of. That's when they came to life and it became hard the rest of the night."
On the right side sophomore Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian) hit a team-best .300 and tallied 15 digs, seven kills, two blocks, two assists and an ace while Jackson dug up 17 balls and had UNK's lone solo stuff. Finally, senior defensive specialist Morgan Stute (Kearney Catholic) had 11 digs and several hustle plays.
MWSU was led by Rachel Losch who hit .333 and had eight kills and three blocks.