Ace blocker’s return helps lift Mavs past Cougars
A Pink performance
Mesa State College’s volleyball team added pink to the school color scheme Thursday night, and despite some bumps along the way, the Mavs were in the pink with a five-game victory over Colorado Christian University.
The majority of the 812 fans in Brownson Arena showed up in pink to support the college’s Swing For Life benefit for cancer research. The Mavs were in pink jerseys with white lettering, the Cougars in white with pink accents. Everywhere you looked, there was pink.
The Mavericks finally put the pesky Cougars away, 22-25, 25-12, 25-15, 23-25, 15-11, getting a lift from the return of senior middle blocker Jessica Bird, who missed the first 13 matches with a broken bone in her right hand.
The Mavs wore pink ribbons and headbands, and all of the players wore pink wristbands around their shoes (rules prohibit jewelry on their arms), as did the Grand Junction Police Department’s color guard.
The Mavs threw pink-and-white souvenir volleyballs into the stands during introductions and several male students donned pink face paint and painted their chests. Rowdy the Maverick mascot had pink wristbands attached to his horns.
Once Swing For Life founder Kathy Howa, a former Maverick herself, and Sally Hancock, the mother of volleyball player Sarah Hancock and basketball player Abby Hancock, two cancer survivors, started the match with ceremonial first serves.
Colorado Christian (5-11, 1-6 RMAC) hung right with the Mavs, using some scrappy defense to keep balls alive that generally hit the floor.
“In practice, we all challenge each other and when we come out in games and that happens it doesn’t bother us at all,” said freshman outside hitter Corinne Cascioppo, who had a career-high 22 kills.
Alisan Tompkins had 17 and Bird an even dozen, committing only one hitting error in 17 attacks.
“She really wanted to get out there and she did give us a little bit of an emotional lift,” Mesa State coach Dave Fleming said. “She’s just got to get comfortable with T (Tara King) setting. That was practice No. 3 for her.
Twelve kills, hit .647, that’s Jessica Bird.”
In the second game, Cascioppo recorded six kills in a nine-point stretch and had eight in that game alone.
Tied at 15-15 in the third game, the Mavericks shifted the momentum. An attack error by Christian gave the Mavs a 16-15 lead and put Whitney Howard at the service line.
The sophomore defensive specialist served the next nine points, with Bird recording two kills and teaming up with Tara King for a block. Tompkins had a solo block of Brittany Mabb to reach game point, then put it away with a kill off a double block.
The Mavs couldn’t maintain that momentum, though, and the Cougars sent the match to a decisive fifth game.
Bird and Tompkins came through down the stretch in the fifth game. Trailing 10-8, Bird put the ball straight down into the open middle of the Colorado Christian defense and Tompkins followed with her 17th kill of the night to tie the game at 10-10.
Mesa State rattled off five of six points, with Bird sending long passes back over the net for kills on the final two points.
“She’s the mom on the team,” Cascioppo said. “Even when she wasn’t able to play, she was there telling us what to do. She’s the smartest girl, the smartest volleyball player I’ve met. She knows it inside and out.”
Loftsgard finished with 17 digs, Tompkins 14 and Meredith Dolny 16, as the Mesa State defense responded to the Cougars’ ability to keep the ball alive.
Amanda Huskey, the CCU libero who attended Life Academy in Grand Junction, had 18 digs, one of four Cougars in double figures. Lynda Hughes, a junior outside hitter from Grand Junction, had seven kills and three assisted blocks.
The Mavericks (8-6, 6-1 RMAC) are right back on the court tonight, facing Metro State at 7 p.m. They won’t be in pink, but for one night, even Fleming didn’t mind wearing a pink shirt.
“It’s a great cause,” he said. “It kind of makes you take a step back and say ‘hey, volleyball’s not that important in the big picture.’ ’’