Bulldogs go down swinging as 'turning-point season' concludes

By on Nov. 12, 2014 in Volleyball

Bulldogs go down swinging as ‘turning-point season’ concludes

ORANGE CITY, Iowa – A focused Northwestern squad had it all going on in the opening two sets of Wednesday’s GPAC semifinal battle with the Concordia University volleyball team. The seventh-ranked and top-seeded Red Raiders then staved off a spirited Bulldog rally to win, 25-17, 25-18, 22-25, 25-21, and advance to Saturday’s GPAC championship game.

The loss ends the season for third-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad, which went 20-12 and finished in the top four of the GPAC standings for the first time since 2001.

“We are going to remember this season for a long time as a turning-point season,” Mattera said. “I’m very proud of this group and can't wait for a huge offseason.”

Concordia got something going its way in the third set when it opened up a 12-7 lead. Claire White made it 10-7 on a big momentum point after a long rally. Mariah Schamp followed with a kill in the middle that forced a Red Raider timeout. After Northwestern got back within two, Concordia responded and eventually held off Northwestern to win the third set when Annie Friesen dropped in a kill.

That momentum carried over into the fourth set as Concordia’s service game helped it jump out to a 7-4 lead after a White ace. The rest of the contest’s final game was nip and tuck until the Red Raiders went on a late run. They ended the Bulldog upset bid when Haley Chambers pounded down a kill for match point.

Tiegen Skains gave Concordia a 17-16 lead in the fourth set with her kill off an Alayna Kavanaugh assist. That’s when Northwestern showed the mettle the helped it blaze through the GPAC regular season with just a single loss. Star outside hitter Kaitlin Floerchinger hammered three late kills, including one that answered White’s powerful swing that got Concordia within 23-21.

“There was a point midway through the fourth that we thought we had them on the ropes, but they stepped up as a national title contender is supposed to,” Mattera said. “I'm so proud of this group of young ladies. They could have mailed it in after the almost perfect game northwestern threw at us in the first, but we fought back, played smart and forced a momentum shift after the break that almost got us over the top.”

Northwestern rolled through the first set by hitting an eye-popping .519 behind 14 Brooke Fessler assists. It looked as though the Red Raiders might just run the Bulldogs out of the gym. But with its season on the line, Concordia made the GPAC’s top seed work for its 30th win of the campaign.

Karlie Schut emerged as the biggest star of the night. She piled up a match high 17 kills for Northwestern. White tried to match her on the other side of the net. The native of Exeter, Neb., powdered five of her team high 10 kills in the final set as Concordia came close to forcing a fifth game.

In service, both White and Michala Maurer registered three aces for a Bulldog squad that had nine aces. It wasn’t enough to overcome a .327 to .155 disadvantage in hitting percentage against one of the nation’s most potent attacks.

Both Skains and Schamp (five blocks) added seven kills apiece. Kavanaugh ended up with 28 assists and eight digs. Senior Carli Smith paced the Bulldogs with nine digs.

Despite the loss, Mattera’s program has laid a solid foundation for the 2015 season. The 2014 Bulldogs defeated three ranked opponents, came through with the first 20-win season in seven years and moved into the top-four of one of the NAIA’s top volleyball conferences.

Said Smith as the stretch run beckoned: “I really don't want this to be my last season. I see where this program is right now and where it's going, and it makes me so proud of my teammates and coaches of where we are and how we got here. We have pushed so hard this season.”