Defending national champs escape Walz with win

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 20, 2017 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – Defending national champion and top-ranked Hastings made a great escape from Walz Arena with its lengthy win streak still intact. Emphasis on the word ‘escape.’ A rapidly improving Concordia University volleyball team outhit the Broncos through the opening two sets while feeding off the most frenzied home crowd it has seen so far in 2017. Hastings showed its championship mettle in tight spots and won, 26-24, 27-25, 25-15, on Wednesday evening.

The W’s aren’t coming just yet against the top notch opponents for sixth-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad, but the growth is evident for the Bulldogs (5-9, 0-4 GPAC). At the same time, Concordia isn’t all that interested in moral victories.

“We pushed No. 1 in the country, but not at this point in the season (are we satisfied),” Mattera said. “We have people making the same mistakes that they made on day one. That’s on me. That’s on the coaching staff. We have to start making some hard decisions. We can list all of the positives and everything. I love this team. The reason I’m frustrated is because I believe in them so much. They need to start believing in themselves. We have to toughen up. We’re on the road, but we have to be moving down that road faster.”

The losses can wear on a team, but there’s no shame in the effort the Bulldogs put together on Wednesday. The excruciatingly tight defeats in the first and second sets made for an understandable emotional bubble burst. The Broncos (12-0, 4-0 GPAC) pounced in the third set, hit .385 and closed out their 22nd win a row.

Hastings may have graduated conference player of the year Logan Drueppel, but current senior Katie Placke may throw her name in the discussion for that award in 2017. She pummeled a match high 13 kills while hitting .429. She helped carry her squad on a night when the Broncos were hitting .175 after the first two sets.

There’s a feeling of frustration on Concordia’s part because of more thinking of what could have been. The Bulldogs led by as many as six points in the first set and later pulled even (24-24) after a Kelsey Baarck kill. It didn’t work out. Then in the second set, the Bulldogs forced another 24-24 tie with a three-points-in-a-row sequence punctuated by a Jenna Habegger kill. It set up for more heartache when Casey Korlikowski’s serve pelted the floor for a set point ace.

Good things happened for Concordia when it went to the middle. Sophomore Emmie Noyd put down eight kills and hit .471. Meanwhile, senior Annie Friesen floored six kills on nine swings, moving her past 500 kills in her career. Their production wasn’t enough to overcome Hastings advantages of .229 to .170 in hitting percentage and 8-1 in blocks. In addition, Bronco libero Jill Bax was a buzzkill in the back row, rattling off 27 digs.

The Bulldogs will take their shot at two more ranked opponents this weekend with a road trip to western Iowa. On Friday, Concordia will take on No. 6 Dordt (15-3, 3-1 GPAC) at 7:30 p.m. CT in Sioux Center, Iowa. The next day, the Bulldogs will be in Sioux City, Iowa, for a 3 p.m. CT first serve at No. 24 Morningside (10-7, 2-2 GPAC).