Nov. 22, 2008

Courtesy of Nebraska-Kearney Athletics

Kearney, Neb. - Top-ranked and defending national champion Concordia-St. Paul used some tough serving over the final two sets, and had a balanced attack, to rally past the 9th-ranked Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team (20-25, -21, 23-25, -13, -10) Friday night in an NCAA Tournament second round match in St. Paul, Minn.

The top seed in the Central Region, the Golden Bears (33-1) advance to Saturday's regional final where they'll take on third-seed Minnesota-Duluth (26-8). The Bulldogs beat second-seed SW Minnesota State, 3-1, in Friday's early match.

Meanwhile, the Lopers end the 2008 season with a 32-4 mark.

On the defending champions' home court, UNK almost pulled off one of the biggest wins in its long and storied history.

The Golden Bears, after a season-opening setback to 2nd-ranked Cal State San Bernardino, were riding a 32-match win streak and had dropped only 10 sets since that 3-0 set loss to San Bernardino on August 28th.

The Lopers, by winning the first and third sets Friday, forced Concordia to play its first five-set match since October 30, 2007.

UNK grabbed a 2-1 match lead by rallying from an 18-13 deficit in the third game. Using four kills, two blocks and seeing Concordia have six unforced errors, the Lopers managed a 25-23 set victory. Showing why they are the champions, Concordia dominated the fourth game, serving up three aces and hitting .312 to win by 12 points.

In the deciding fifth set, two unforced Loper attack errors gave the Golden Bears a 4-2 lead and CSP never trailed again. However, UNK kept things close, trailing by 9-8 score after kills from juniors Nikki Scott (Broken Bow) and Erica Burson (Gross Catholic).

After a Concordia time out, the Bears took control, getting back-to-back service aces from Mary Slinger and a kill from setter Maggie McNamara to grab a 12-8 advantage. UNK would eventually trail by a 13-10 score but kills from Sadie Kessler and Maria Steinhagen finished the match.

UNK ended the night at a .180 attack percentage with Concordia just a tad better at .190. Having 23 more attack attempts, the Bears had 18 more kills, and 12 more errors, then the Lopers.

Kearney out dug (78-77) and out blocked (11-9) CSP but the home team had a plus five advantage in service aces. In an area that was not a strong point all season the 11 team blocks tied a UNK season-high.

Individually, Scott (17 kills) and fellow middle Jeri Walkowiak (12) led the UNK offense. For a second night in a row, Scott was the Lopers go to player, hitting a team-best .342 while also supplying four blocks at the net.

Walkowiak (Grand Island) hit .250, recorded a second straight double double (14 digs) and had a team-high six blocks.

Next, Burson and fellow outsides Chelsie Carson (Elkhorn) and Shelby Workman (Loveland, Colo.) combined for 20 kills, 23 digs and four blocks. Finally, junior libero Kelli Wemhoff led the team in digs (15) with Workman and sophomore setter Cola Svec joining Walkowiak at 14 digs.

Concordia had four different played record double digit kill totals. Senior outside Whitney Meierotto had a team-best 18 kills while also adding a match-high 27 digs and three aces.

Steinhagen, a senior middle, had 15 kills, a match-high eight blocks and hit a team-high .345. Finally, Kessler had 11 kills and nine digs with freshman outside Ellie Duffy recording 17 kills and four blocks.