KEARNEY — After defeating two ranked opponents over the weekend, third-ranked University of Nebraska at Kearney volleyball avoided a letdown against Fort Hays State on Tuesday night.
The Lopers capitalized on suspect defense to hit .315 and held the Tigers to a .083 hitting percentage in a three-set sweep (25-8, 25-14, 25-11) at the Health and Sports Center.
“I was concerned all week,” coach Rick Squiers said. “You’re really happy that you were able to win two matches over the weekend, but it’s just a different dynamic coming in here and playing Fort Hays State, a team that you’re supposed to beat, a match you need to win.
“They have some weapons and are more potent than they were last year. … Fortunately, we were able to get some separation there. We played a little cleaner as the match wore on and eventually got over the hump.”
Entering this season, the Lopers were bit of an unknown. Even though they’ve dominated the MIAA since joining the league in 2012, the Lopers had to replace four impactful players from last year’s team and incorporate nine freshmen and two transfers into the mix.
The Lopers (16-0, 7-0 MIAA) couldn’t have asked for a better start, however. They have eased through their first 16 matches, defeating four ranked opponents and claiming 11 three-set victories.
UNK is the only undefeated team in the MIAA with Washburn and Northwest Missouri – two teams the Lopers have defeated – sitting with one conference loss.
“It’s one of those things that at the beginning of the season you don’t know whether it’s going to pan out because all the teams in the MIAA are always really good,” team captain and outside hitter Julianne Jackson said. “You’re just waiting to see where you’re going to stack up. I think coming out in the beginning of conference and playing well has been good for us.”
The first set started with the teams trading points with the Tigers (6-10, 3-5) evening the score at 9-9 on a net violation by UNK. The back and forth ended when the Lopers rattled off seven consecutive points to hold a 16-9 advantage.
The Lopers stretched their lead to as many as 10 points, in large part because of five Fort Hays ball handling errors.
The Tigers struggle with errors the entire match. They committed eight in the first set and 14 over the final two sets.
The Lopers won the first six points and 13 of the first 15 points in the second set. They led 21-7, which allowed Squiers to substitute reserves into the match, before winning 25-14.
In the third set, UNK continued to exploit the Tigers’ defensive inefficiencies. Even though Squiers rotated in numerous reserves, the Lopers didn’t commit a single ball handling error to hit .500 in the third-set victory.
“We are trying to be very conscious of how we are coming out and playing,” Jackson said. “We weren’t playing very clean in the first set. We had a lot of errors, and we wanted to come out the next two sets and kind of clean that up.”
Squiers played 16 players against the Tigers. Jackson paced the Lopers’ offense with seven kills. Junior right-side hitter MK Wolfe had six kills and junior middle blocker Anna Squiers, redshirt freshman outside hitter Sami Mauch and freshman middle blocker Michaela Bartels had five kills apiece.
“We have a lot of girls on our team, and I think it’s really great to get everyone involved as much as possible,” Jackson said. “It’s a large team and you want to keep everyone positive, growing and gaining confidence. The perks of having such a large bench is being able to use any of them at any moment, so we want to keep them involved.”
The Lopers return to action against Missouri Western (9-5, 3-3) at 6 p.m. Friday at the Health and Sports Center.
UNK 3, Fort Hays State 0
Scores by Set
FHS (6-10, 3-5)18 14 11
UNK (16-0, 7-0)25 25 25
KILLS — FHS: Delaney Humm 7, Morgan West 7, Isabelle Reynolds 7, Morgan Christiansen 3, Emily Ellis 3, Kylie Brown 3. UNK: Julianne Jackson 7, MK Wolfe 6, Michaela Bartels 5, Sami Mauch 5, Anna Squiers 5, Maddie Squiers 2, Kamryn Schuler 2, Josie Cox 2, Gracie Stienike 1, Madi Stearnes 1.
ASSISTS — FHS: Katie Darnell 22, Taylor White 5, Delaney Humm 1, Emily Ellis 1. UNK: Maddie Squiers 27, Lindsay Nottlemann 2, Julianne Jackson 1, MK Wolfe 1, Emma Benton 1, Taylin McNair 2.
ACES – FHS: None. UNK: Anna Squiers 1, Julianne Jackson 1, Emma Benton 1.
DIGS — FHS: Abbie Hayes 10, Madison Miller 7, Taylor White 7, Delaney Humm 5, Katie Darnell 3, Morgan West 2, Morgan Christiansen 1, Tatum Bartels 1, Emily Ellis 1. UNK: Lindsay Nottlemann 8, MK Wolfe 5, Mo Schafer 5, Julianne Jackson 4, Anna Squiers 3, Michaela Bartels 3, Emma Benton 3, Sami Mauch 2, Maddie Squiers 1, Kamryn Schuler 1.
BLOCKS — FHS: Isabelle Reynolds 2, Morgan Christiansen 2, Morgan West 1, Emily Ellis 1. UNK: MK Wolfe 2, Mackenzie Puckett 2, Maddie Squiers 1, Anna Squiers 1, Julianne Jackson 1, Michaela Bartels 1.