SEWARD, Neb. – Observers at the 2021 Bulldog Bash knew that the featured match of the day loomed in the evening. The battle between sixth-ranked Concordia University and No. 12 Bellevue University lived up to its billing on Saturday (Aug. 28). The visiting Bruins rallied from a slight deficit in the fifth set and held off the Bulldogs, 25-18, 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 15-13. Earlier in the day, both Concordia and Bellevue toppled Baker University (Kan.) in straight sets as part of the triangular.
Head Coach Ben Boldt’s squad won two of its three matches during the opening week of the 2021 campaign. Even in defeat in the capper, Boldt noted many positives that his squad can build upon.
“This was a really good top 25 matchup early in the season,” Boldt said. “We lost the first couple of sets – I was happy to see how we came back. The word that keeps coming back for me is this is a gritty team. I feel like we embodied that today. That’s part of our growth process. It’s a good foundation for us heading into the conference season.”
Although separated by less than 75 miles, Concordia and Bellevue had not met up since 2017 when the Bruins also escaped Seward with a five-set win. Already the owner of a victory over previously sixth-ranked Eastern Oregon University, Bellevue looked like it might make it an early night. The Bruins climbed out of a 19-14 hole in the second set with an 11-3 run that could have demoralized the Bulldogs. Camryn Opfer got going in the third set with four kills, including one for set point.
An entertaining fourth set (18 kills for both sides) gave way to a nail-biting fifth set. A timely kill from Morgan Nibbe in the middle helped Concordia mount a 13-11 advantage. Bellevue called timeout, regrouped and rattled off the match’s final four points. The action ended with Eve Fountain’s attack that was judged to have been touched by a Bulldog before landing out of bounds. Fountain paced all players with 18 kills in the match.
Concordia outhit the Bruins slightly, .247 to .238, although Bellevue (5-0) owned the advantage in kills, 71-63. The Bruins also got double-digit kill totals from Jacki Apel (15), Sierra Athen (15) and Haley Fleischman (11).
On the right side, Arleigh Costello put together a fine day that saw her go for nine kills in the win over Baker and then another 14 in the loss to Bellevue. Her combined 23 kills came on 58 swings. Opfer finished with 12 kills and 16 digs in the Bellevue match while Gabi Nordaker racked up 15 kills in Saturday’s second contest.
The Bulldogs controlled play in the tussle with Baker (0-4), a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Tara Callahan produced an eye-popping seven ace serves in that particular match. As a team, Concordia pelted the Wildcats with 13 aces while hitting .310. Costello, Opfer and Sara Huss each collected nine kills in the victory. Callahan finished with 86 assists over eight sets on the day. In addition to her fine attacking efforts, Costello chipped in four blocks in the five-setter.
The matchup with Bellevue was one that should help prepare the Bulldogs for the rigors of the GPAC grind. Concordia continues to break in new pieces in its back row. Freshman DS Cassidy Knust saw increasing court time on Saturday while jumping in along with others such as Rebecca Gebhardt and Tatum Kuti in that department.
Said Boldt, “We’re still trying to figure out what our best lineup is. There’s a maturation process for some of the younger players. We have to continue to figure that out. They’re giving us everything that they got.”
The Bulldogs will return to GPAC play on Wednesday (Sept. 1) when they travel to No. 23 College of Saint Mary (7-1, 0-1 GPAC). First serve of the varsity match is set for 7:30 p.m. CT from Omaha.