SEWARD, Neb. – A different Bulldog squad emerged from the huddle following a rough first set. In a complete reversal of fortunes, the 20th-ranked Concordia University volleyball team jumped out to a 10-1 advantage in the second set and rode that wave of momentum to a 13-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-21 win over No. 17 Northwestern in Saturday night’s GPAC quarterfinal match inside Walz Arena.
Fourth-year head coach Scott Mattera’s squad earned a season sweep of the Red Raiders (24-8) while moseying on to the GPAC semifinals for the second-consecutive season. Concordia is now 25-7 overall and 6-3 versus ranked opponents in 2015.
“What a match,” Mattera said. “We came out really sluggish and Northwestern played fantastic in that first game. I’m so proud of the way that girls responded and for staying even in games two, three and four. It would have been really easy to duck our heads after the whooping we took in game one. They stayed in it and stayed together.”
Outside hitter Claire White showed senior leadership by brushing off a dominant opening set for the Red Raiders. White put away points two, three, four, six and eight as Concordia got the crowd back into it in the second set. White finished with a team high 14 kills while also adding 13 digs.
Most impressively, the Bulldogs got it done defensively against a squad that entered the night ranked No. 1 in the GPAC in hitting percentage and kills per set. Concordia held down star Karlie Schut, who finished with nine kills and a .097 attack percentage. As a team, the Red Raiders hit .169 overall after attacking at a .265 clip in the big opening set.
Fittingly, the match ended when Tiegen Skains and Taylor Workman combined on a block of Jessica Van Beek for the clinching point. For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs had the opportunity to celebrate a home GPAC tournament victory.
“Coach talked to us all night about blocking well. That’s something we kind of focused on,” Skains said. “It’s easy to play when you’re not thinking. In the first game we thought a lot and were worrying too much about system stuff. We just went out and played well and played hard.”
No one player put up eye-popping statistics on Saturday, but collectively Concordia played exceptional defense. It posted 12 blocks and dug up 65 of Northwestern’s total 142 attacks. Sophomore Jocelyn Garcia came up with 21 digs and Kendra Dinkel added 14. While middle Annie Friesen was contained on the attack, she went for seven total blocks.
A battle-tested and experienced bunch, the Bulldogs proved that very little will phase them. Concordia looked the part of a team with national tournament aspirations.
“One thing that we focused on was playing for each other and not worrying about the team on the other side of the court,” Skains said. “Sometimes I think we get obsessed with that stuff. It was about playing and not thinking.”
Skains finished with 11 kills. Junior Paige Getz chipped in 11. The Bulldogs hit .126 as a team, but saved their best offensive work for the fifth game when they posted a .265 attack percentage. Setter Alayna Kavanaugh had 39 assists.
Cheers rang out from several Bulldog volleyball players while Mattera chatted during his postgame interview. News of eighth-seeded College of Saint Mary’s upset over top-seeded Dordt began to spread. That result means Concordia will be back at home for the GPAC semifinals. The Flames (13-16) will travel to Walz Arena for a 7:30 p.m. first serve on Wednesday.
The winner will be on the road for the GPAC championship against either second-seeded Midland or third-seeded Hastings. The title game is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 14.