SEWARD, Neb. – Needing a win to remain in the hunt for a top-four placement in the GPAC standings, junior Claire White and the Concordia University volleyball team rose to the occasion. Behind a large “pink night” crowd, the Bulldogs held off Briar Cliff, 26-24, 25-23, 19-25, 18-25, 15-7, inside Walz Arena on Friday night.
The visiting Chargers (18-8, 7-6 GPAC), just two days removed from an upset of No. 21 Dordt, made Concordia earn it. The Bulldogs did so by limiting Briar Cliff to a .189 hitting percentage. Head coach Scott Mattera’s squad improved to 16-9 overall and 7-5 in GPAC play, putting it in a tie for fourth in the league standings.
“It’s pretty easy to be happy after that one,” Mattera said. “How can you not be unbelievably proud of the way they played, especially in that fifth game. It would have been really easy to hang our heads about 3 and 4.”
After Concordia allowed a 2-0 match lead to slip away, it then dominated the fifth set. During which senior Carli Smith dropped in back-to-back aces and the Bulldogs raced out to a 10-3 advantage. Concordia hit .444 in the fifth with three kills apiece being provided by the potent combo in the middle of senior Mariah Schamp and freshman Annie Friesen.
After a Schamp kill for point No. 14, the Bulldogs clinched their eighth home win in nine tries this season when Schamp denied Rachele Harrill at the net for match point.
“We just came out and played really intense,” Friesen said of the fifth game. “We played together and our energy was up the whole time. That just brought us together and helped us play awesome.”
While White (16 kills) had another fine effort on the attack, Friesen proved to be a big factor in the victory. The native of Wichita, Kan., piled up 11 kills on 17 swings and five blocks. Sophomore setter Alayna Kavanaugh dished out 51 assists while directing an attack that also got 14 kills from sophomore Paige Getz and 13 from Schamp.
Four different Bulldogs had at least one kill during the impressive fifth-game performance.
“I walked into the huddle before that fifth game and you just knew,” Mattera said. “It’s what we’ve been talking about ever since the match against Wesleyan (Tuesday). What’s your body language say about your confidence? Man we were confident in that fifth game.”
The Chargers stormed back to force the fifth game, even when it looked like Concordia may run away with game 4. The Bulldogs led 7-1, but fell behind 10-9 after a kill by star Charger Breanna Nogelmeier. The 6-foot-2 middle notched four of her six blocks in the third game to spur the Briar Cliff rally. Her run of defensive dominance limited the Bulldogs to an .068 hitting percentage in the third game.
But Concordia needed this one too much to let it get away.
“This one’s huge,” Friesen said. “It’s going to give us momentum for tomorrow and help us with everything.”
The Bulldogs got off to a good start thanks in large part to White, who piled up seven of her 16 kills in the first set. After falling behind 23-20, Concordia then ran off six of the next seven points with White slamming down set point. White finished the night with 300 kills on the season, making her the ninth player in program history to record back-to-back 300-plus kill seasons.
Katelin Langel topped Briar Cliff with 17 kills. Amy Frank turned in a match-high 18 digs for a squad that fell to Concordia for the first time since Oct. 5, 2012.
The Bulldogs turn around quickly on Saturday to host No. 21 Dordt (14-9, 8-4 GPAC) at 3 p.m. In their most recent outing, the Defenders were upset at Briar Cliff, 25-20, 25-20, 21-25, 22-25, 15-12. In last season’s meeting, then No. 18 Dordt defeated Concordia in straight sets on Oct. 26, 2013.