LINCOLN, Neb. – The Concordia University volleyball team appeared to be rolling along after winning the first set and then taking a 9-3 lead in the second, but host and NCAA Division III 22nd-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan responded on its home floor. The Prairie Wolves (11-3, 3-3 GPAC) overcome a big night from Bulldog middles Annie Friesen and Mariah Schamp to claim a 20-25, 25-23, 25-17, 29-27 win in Lincoln on Tuesday.
Nebraska Wesleyan, which had lost three in a row since a 10-0 start, sent head coach Scott Mattera’s squad to 12-6 overall and 4-3 in conference action.
“It was a weird match. We feel bad that we lost but it was a situation where both teams think they should win,” Mattera said. “We didn’t catch a lot of breaks. We didn’t play great but played well. Wesleyan caught fire in the second game and did some things we didn’t have an answer for.”
Playing for the first time this season without sophomore Taylor Workman (.408 hitting percentage), the Bulldogs showed their depth in the middle. Friesen and Schamp went toe-to-toe with Prairie Wolf star middle Alyssa Stanek, who entered play leading NCAA Division III with 1.64 blocks per set. Friesen (10 kills) and Schamp (12 kills) hammered a combined 22 kills with the help of sophomore setter Alayna Kavanaugh, who again sprinkled the ball all over the court.
“Obviously we miss Taylor,” Mattera said. “But that wasn’t a major factor in why we lost. Our middles were very effective. Annie played really well offensively and had some nice blocks. Schamp was Schamp. They both did a lot of good things.”
But this was a win Stanek (2013 first team all-conference) and the Prairie Wolves needed at home. They finally put it away when Stanek smashed a kill in the fourth set to end the back-and-forth affair. Concordia had missed its opportunity after serving for set point three times, including once after a thunderous kill from Claire White made it 26-25.
The momentum switched in the second set after the Bulldogs raced out to an early six-point lead. Nebraska Wesleyan went on an 8-0 run (six points coming on Concordia errors) to provide an 11-8 Prairie Wolf advantage. The Bulldogs regained the lead, 19-18, on a Paige Getz kill, but they eventually suffered a close defeat despite out-hitting Nebraska Wesleyan in the set.
“They got on a really good service run,” Mattera said. “We were not in system enough. When we were in system we were really good. I think there were good defensive adjustments both ways. We made some plays, just not enough to win.”
For the match, Concordia hit .209 compared to .243 for the Prairie Wolves. The Bulldogs came out sizzling with a .367 first-set hitting percentage that made a potential third GPAC road win a distinct possibility. Nebraska Wesleyan did its best work on the attack in the third set, posting a .359 clip.
Stanek finished with 15 kills and seven total blocks. Senior outside hitter Katelyn Walsh may have been the match’s biggest star though, as she floored 16 kills while committing only one attack error.
Getz topped Concordia with 15 kills. The blossoming Kavanaugh assisted 54 of the team’s 58 kills. Kavanaugh’s 54 assists were a career high for a four-set match and two short of her personal best of 56 assists in a five-set win over Ottawa University (Kan.) last season.
The Bulldogs had hoped to duplicate their result from 2012 when they surprised Wesleyan in four sets in what was likely the biggest win of Mattera’s first season as head coach.
Last week’s victory over No. 18 Hastings nearly vaulted Concordia into the NAIA top 25 rankings released on Tuesday. The Bulldogs appeared first (26th overall) among the “others receiving votes.”
The Bulldogs will dip outside of the conference on Thursday when they play at College of Saint Mary (12-3) in Omaha. First serve is set for 7 p.m. Last season the Bulldogs made quick work of the Flames, 25-16, 25-12, 25-18, in Seward.