Mavs fall just short of upset
Fifth-ranked Lopers win 5-game thriller
Mesa State had the fifth-ranked team in the nation on the ropes.
The Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team survived to force a fifth game where its experience came through in a matchup for first place in the RMAC. The Lopers defeated Mesa State 25-16, 26-28, 20-25, 25-20, 15-10 in front of 1,108 on Friday night at Brownson Arena.
“I told our team I’m proud of them,” Mesa State coach Dave Fleming said. “If Kearney is the fifth-best team in the country, then we’re one of the best teams in the country, too. They played great, their All-Americans played great, (Nikki) Scott, (Jeri) Walkowiak and (Erica) Burson, too. What I told our team is they looked a little bit more comfortable, and they knew how to react in certain situations.”
Tessa Andrews led Mesa State with 16 kills. Antoinette McCormick had 12 and Ali Tompkins had 10. Freshman Kelly Regimbal gave Mesa a lift with nine kills. Tara King had 45 assists.
“Kelly took some great rips and blocked well,” Fleming said. “She did exactly what we needed. Brie (Gabriella Lovato) was struggling a little bit and Kelly played great. She got a little tight at the end, but that’s what happens with freshmen.”
Walkowiak and Scott led the Lopers with 16 kills each. Burson had 15. Cola Svec had 60 assists and 17 digs.
The Mavericks (12-9, 10-2 RMAC) were only the second team to push Kearney (22-1, 12-0 RMAC) to a fifth game this season. The other, Nebraska-Omaha, lost as well.
“This was a great volleyball environment,” Kearney coach Rick Squiers said. “It was fun to be a part of, obviously a lot more fun to win and a heartbreaker to lose. Hats off to Mesa for a match well played.”
The Lopers closed the match with a 5-0 run with three kills from Walkowiak and another from Svec.
“We played low error. We didn’t make some of the mistakes that plagued us during other times in the match,” Squiers said.
“We were able to get some huge sideouts from Jeri Walkowiak, Nikki Scott. Our setter was a little off at times tonight, she really got sharp in Game 5. That allowed us to put the pressure on them and in a Game 5 a play here or there makes all the difference.”
Nebraska-Kearney played nearly error-free to easily take the first game 25-16, but Mesa State made some adjustments in the second game to even the match.
“We started taking things away from what they wanted to do and our defense stepped up,” Fleming said. “That’s kind of been our M.O. on this win streak we’ve been on; they take a good rip on the ball and our back row still gets the ball up, Whitney (Howard), Meredith (Dolny) and Megan Rush.
“Our block, we didn’t get a lot of stops, but we got a lot of touches,” Fleming said. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff blocks, but I don’t think Kearney thinks we have a weak block. We got their hitters doing what they didn’t want to do.”
The Mavericks went on a 7-1 run to take an 18-15 lead in the second game. Kearney came back with a 6-1 run to take a 24-21 lead, but McCormick and Regimbal made a couple of stuff blocks to spark a 7-2 run and give Mesa a 28-26 win.
“The fact that we won the match doesn’t make that one (game) any more disappointing to lose,” Squiers said. “What we talked to the girls about after Game 2 is we gave that away. You can’t be up 24-21 and get beat.
“With a chance to go up 2-0 on the road, usually you don’t survive that. Credit Mesa, they blocked two balls. They had something to do with that. We weren’t able to close the door. Had we lost the match that clearly would’ve been the thing that haunted us.”
Mesa took the momentum into Game 3 and went on an 8-3 run en route to the 25-20 win.
The Mavericks built a three-point lead early in Game 4, but Kearney rallied, going on a 7-1 run to force the fifth game.