KEARNEY – After dropping the first set in its last two matches, No. 11-ranked University of Nebraska at Kearney volleyball came out with energy and aggressiveness against Augustana University on Saturday night.
The Lopers hit an impressive .441 to ease to a 25-12 first-set victory. The momentum carried over into the remainder of the match, as the Lopers swept Augustana 25-12, 25-16, 25-17 in the Loper Preseason Invitational at the Health and Sports Center.
The Lopers won all four of their matches as part of the two-day event.
“I thought we were super clean,” UNK coach Rick Squiers said. “We were really good in serve-receive, we made very few unforced errors, we kept the pressure on them from the service line, and we were really balanced.”
In the first set, the Vikings (3-1) notched two consecutive points to pull within 10-7 of the Lopers (4-0). The Lopers didn’t give in though, as they rallied to gain 24-9 advantage before closing out the set on a kill by junior right side hitter MK Wolfe.
The Lopers relied heavily on their veteran players in the first set. Wolfe and senior outside hitter Emma Benton each tallied four kills, while senior outside hitter Julianne Jackson added three.
Their defense also played a large role in the Lopers’ fast start, holding the Vikings to a .111 hitting percentage in the set.
“What we talked about is that both teams have played three teams and there’s probably a little fatigue setting in,” Squiers said. “But one of these teams still wants to play, especially if you can get out early and play with a lot of energy because all of a sudden, if you are behind, that fatigue feels a little worse. I think we took that to heart.”
The Lopers were never challenged in the final two sets, as they continued to play their experienced players. Squiers used a short bench, playing just eight players in the match.
The Lopers hit .298 in the match compared to the Vikings’ .094. Wolfe and Benton paced the Lopers with 10 kills apiece. They received another well-rounded performance from junior setter Maddie Squiers, who had 33 assists, 16 digs, six kills and one service ace.
On this year’s team, the Lopers have nine true freshmen. Squiers expects some of them to make an impact throughout the season but the only freshman he used against the Vikings was middle blocker Michaela Bartels.
She played in all four matches for the Lopers in the two-day event and performed extremely well on Saturday. In the Lopers’ first contest Saturday against Oklahoma Baptist, she posted 15 kills and a .414 hitting percentage in the five-set match. She continued to thrive against the Vikings, recording nine kills and a .353 hitting percentage.
“Michaela Bartels kind of grew up and went from being a freshman to being a player,” Squiers said.
The Lopers fended off an upset bid in their first match Saturday. They faced Oklahoma Baptist and lost the first two sets, forcing the Lopers to rally to win a five-set thriller (19-25, 17-25, 25-7, 25-14, 15-13).
After dropping the first and second sets, the Lopers overpowered Oklahoma Baptist in the third and fourth sets. The two teams went back and forth in the decisive fifth set with the Lopers winning the final two points to prevail.
“To be able to regroup and play at the level we are capable of playing at from that point forward, you couldn’t feel any better about it,” Squiers said. “Certainly things we need to work on coming off the first weekend, but at least we showed a lot of grit and competitiveness so we are optimistic.”
The Lopers return to the court against York College at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Health and Sports Center.