SEWARD, Neb. – A day after receiving the program’s first national ranking since 2001, the Concordia University volleyball team faced its stiffest challenge yet in 2015. The eighteenth-ranked Bulldogs succumbed to undefeated and fourth-ranked Midland, 25-20, 26-24, 25-18, inside a charged up Walz Arena on Wednesday night.
The Warriors (16-0, 3-0 GPAC) remained perfect in a matchup that paired Concordia’s powerful offensive attack (No. 1 in the NAIA in kills per game) with one of the nation’s most fearsome blocking front walls.
“Midland’s a really good team,” Bulldog head coach Scott Mattera said. “They passed really well tonight. They won the serve and pass battle. That’s all there was to it. We had them in game 2, we just didn’t play well at the net. We had a chance and we didn’t make the plays.”
Visiting Midland rarely allowed Concordia (14-4, 3-1 GPAC) the opportunity to feed off the sizeable ‘redneck’ crowd inside Walz. With reigning GPAC attacker of the week Priscilla O’Dowd (13 kills, six total blocks) roaming the middle, the Warriors held the Bulldogs to a .058 hitting percentage – well below their season clip of .262 entering the night.
After dropping the first set, Concordia let an opportunity to even up the match slip away. The Bulldogs grabbed a 20-18 lead on the strength of a Libby Zagel ace and an Annie Friesen kill. They then regained a two-point advantage (24-22) with Paige Getz’s kill. That’s when the Warriors showed resolve, rallying back with four-consecutive kills, including the last two by Katie Thomas to take the air out of the building.
Concordia recovered and held leads of 14-8 and 15-9 in the third set as Getz hammered three kills during the run. The Warriors proceeded to go on a soul-crushing 11-2 splurge that included six Bulldog attack errors. Oftentimes when it appeared Concordia had found an opening on the opposite side of the court, Darcy Barry (19 digs) and the Warriors kept it alive.
Only one Bulldog attacker managed to hit above .100. Sophomore middle Annie Friesen, who entered the contest ranked No. 1 in the NAIA in hitting percentage, topped Concordia with nine kills and a .273 percentage. Sophomore defensive specialist Jocelyn Garcia, the GPAC defensive player of the week, again produced in the back row with a match high 21 digs. Getz and Tiegen Skains chipped in six kills apiece.
Midland, No. 5 in the NAIA in blocks per set (2.74), added 11 more denials on Wednesday. Head coach Paul Giesselman regularly employs a front row of players 6-foot or greater in stature such as O’Dowd, Ashlee Harms (6-0) and Jordan Lempka (6-2).
Wednesday’s match marked the first time that Concordia University played host to a match between nationally-ranked squads since Sept. 20, 2000. On that date the 13th-ranked Bulldogs were defeated by No. 9 Peru State in four sets. This year’s Concordia squad is now 3-1 versus top 25 foes.
The Bulldogs continue a challenging week on Saturday when they play at No. 11 Northwestern (16-3, 4-0 GPAC) on Saturday. First serve is set for 3 p.m. from Orange City, Iowa.