Heart thumper goes the other way

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 30, 2017 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – Three times the Concordia University volleyball team had a crack at match point during Wednesday night’s pulse pounder with instate rival and 20th-ranked Bellevue University. Somehow, the visiting Bruins always came up with the answer and walked away a winner, 25-20, 23-25, 22-25, 31-29, 15-7. The Bulldogs fell despite a career high 18 kills from sophomore Alex La Plant.

Sixth-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad has shown rapid improvement since a straight sets, season opening loss to Baker University on Aug. 19, but Concordia is no longer interested in moral victories. The Bulldogs now stand at 2-4 overall.

“I don’t know how to feel quite honestly,” Mattera said. “Obviously I’m a little frustrated that we let one get away. We had a chance to put a big win on the board and really gain some confidence beating a team as good as Bellevue. We just let it slip away. They did the little things better than we did.”

A little air leaked out of the building when Shayla Scanlan hammered one of her match high 19 kills to put away Concordia in the fourth set. Walz Arena exploded on several occasions during the match’s most tension-filled moments. The loudest cheers rang out when Jenna Habegger kept the Bulldogs alive with a highlight reel block. All Concordia needed was one more big play at the right moment – but it never came.

The Bruins (3-2) are a regional power coming off a national tournament appearance in 2016. When Concordia took down Bellevue in 2015, it was a breakthrough win for Mattera’s program and it remains the program’s lone victory over the Bruins since 1995. Led by Scanlan, Bellevue outhit the Bulldogs, .237 to .191, on Wednesday to avoid falling at Walz for a second straight time. Maddie Squiers dished out 50 assists and Cheyenne Mahnke topped the Bruins with 16 digs.

“They’re No. 20 in the country for a reason,” Mattera said. “They’re extremely well coached. They’re a great team, and we gave them all they could handle. On the flip side, we can only say ‘almost’ for so long. It’s still August, but that’s really tough.”

Down 19-15 in the second set, the Bulldogs mustered up the kind of effort they needed to keep hopes of an upset alive. The match still hung in the balance with the Bruins holding a 23-22 advantage. That’s when Emmie Noyd powdered a kill and then Kelsey Baarck caught fire, pulverizing back-to-back kills that ended the set with a thunderous Walz roar.

In some ways, it felt like 2015 again. La Plant (18 kills), Baarck (14 kills) and Emmie Noyd (10 kills, six blocks) all reached double figures in kills while being set by Tara Callahan (47 assists). In the back row, senior Jocelyn Garcia has been especially impressive. She chased down 25 more digs on Wednesday. She appears to be playing the best volleyball of her career. Fellow senior Annie Friesen added eight kills on 18 swings.

The Bulldogs will play four more times at home before concluding this week’s action. The program will welcome volleyball teams from six different institutions to the Bulldog Bash, which will play out Friday and Saturday in both Walz Arena and the PE Center Gym. As part of Friday’s schedule, Concordia will take on NCAA Division II foes Chadron State College (5:30 p.m.) and the University of Mary (7:30 p.m.). All Bulldog Bash matches played inside Walz Arena will be carried on the Concordia Sports Network. For the complete Bulldog Bash schedule, click HERE.