Turn up the volume

Loud crowds fire up Mesa volleyball team

Haleigh Higgins and the Mavericks have celebrated several big wins this season, already matching last year’s win total. After two tough road wins last weekend, Colorado Mesa hosts struggling Chadron State and Black Hills State this weekend.

If opposing teams think a loud, rowdy crowd will mess with the Colorado Mesa University volleyball team this season, think again.

The louder the better with this group.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it was to play,” outside hitter Haleigh Higgins said. “Those two are the hardest gyms to play in in the RMAC, no doubt in my mind, and we pulled out great wins in both of them.”

Adams State University had more than 1,000 fans at Plachy Hall last weekend when the Mavs rolled into Alamosa to play the then-No. 19 Grizzlies. They left town with a 3-2 win after feeding off the crowd.

“As an athlete, you have to learn to tune it out,” Higgins said. “There were people talking the whole time in both games. It personally fueled me to say, ‘You know what? I’m just going to shut you up by doing what I do best and that’s playing well.’

“It’s always fun to go into gyms like that and no matter what the crowd or the other team is doing, you still come out on top.”

Coach Dave Fleming was just as fired up as his players.

“When we’re proactive and aggressive, that’s what I like to see out of our team,” Fleming said. “When we’re proactive and aggressive, we play well. If it’s liberos, hitters, I get fired up, great defensive plays ... that happens when you’re proactive and expect great plays.”

Celebrating big wins are something the Mavericks (11-3, 5-1 RMAC) are enjoying this season. They’ve matched their win total of last season and have settled into a new rotation after losing outside hitter Casey Ball for the season to a knee injury.

Higgins has moved into that outside hitter spot.

“Casey runs a little higher ball, a little tighter (to the net) and both Christian (Otzen) and Haleigh like it a little faster, a little farther off the net,” Fleming said. “It is a little bit different.”

Higgins had 16 kills in the five-game win over Western State the night after upending Adams State, including a handful from the back row.

“During practice, even when Casey was starting, it was tough competition in every single position,” Higgins said. “Unfortunately she did get hurt, but because of the strong competition, I wasn’t scared to go in. I knew I could do it.

“We have four outside hitters and all of us hit a little bit differently. As a setter that’s a little difficult to get used to, but luckily it slid into place pretty quickly.”

The Mavericks are back home at 7 p.m. today against Chadron State in their annual “Dig Pink” game for breast cancer awareness, hoping for a large, rowdy crowd that’s pulling for them.

Kathy Howa, who played volleyball and softball at Mesa and is a breast cancer survivor, will have her Swing for Life items for sale, with all proceeds going to breast cancer research.

Saturday’s match against new RMAC member Black Hills State is at 4 p.m., giving the Yellow Jackets a little extra travel time back to Spearfish, S.D. Both teams are struggling. Chadron is 3-12, 1-5 in the RMAC, with Black Hills entering the weekend 4-10, 0-6.

“We’re preaching that the great teams play at a consistent level all the time,” Fleming said. “You don’t have to play your best every night out, but you have to consistently play at a high level. That’s error-free. You take care of your first contacts, digging, passing, serving, and then your attackers have to be aggressive, and that means between the ears.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t get blocked, but you’re avoiding those silly errors that are keeping the ball in play, making the other team beat you and not beating yourself.”


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