Stark, Bulldogs return to win column

By Jacob Knabel on Oct. 5, 2018 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – They needed this one. In terms of both confidence and GPAC tournament chances, the Concordia University volleyball team needed to return to the win column. Behind 15 kills from sophomore Kara Stark, the Bulldogs did just that. Playing at home for the first time in nearly two weeks, Concordia toppled visiting Briar Cliff, 26-24, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, on Friday night (Oct. 5).

The victory put a halt to a seven-match losing streak for first-year head coach Ben Boldt’s squad, which has moved to 13-7 overall and to 3-7 in conference play.

“That was what we want out of our players in terms of fight and mentality,” Boldt said. “We’re getting there and let’s keep rolling. I didn’t come up with this – our team came up with this. It’s not October, it’s our-tober. That’s our mentality. We’re looking to create some momentum here. Let’s get after it. It’s our-tober.”

Stark got off to a hot start while playing a key role in the Bulldogs’ ability to come out on top in a first set that could have gone either way. Down 23-21 in the first set, the Bulldogs flashed some of that can-do mentality that Boldt has preached. Stark slammed six kills on eight swings in the opening set, which came to an end on a block by freshman Morgan Nibbe.

Blocking has become more of a strength for Concordia, which out-blocked the Chargers (10-8, 4-5 GPAC), 14-8. Three of those denials occurred during a fourth set that got a big ugly. The Bulldogs allowed Briar Cliff to come all the way back to tie things up (17-17) after racing out to a 7-1 advantage. When things got tight, the Bulldogs had a response on this particular night. Concordia finished the third set by rattling off the final six points and then closed out the match by taking eight of the last 10 points in the fourth set. A Nibbe kill provided match point.

While junior Emmie Noyd (eight kills, nine blocks) is typically the go-to when the Bulldogs need a big play, Stark has become one of the squad’s most reliable options. Her 15 kills for the night one-upped her previous career high that had been set the last time out at Dakota Wesleyan.

“It’s the support of my teammates and coaches,” Stark said of her rise in her second collegiate season. “We’re working on things that we need to do to get better every day in practice, things that we can execute. We’ve been working on hitting shots and everything, and that’s been really helpful. My teammates are really fun to play with.”

Senior Jenna Habegger chipped in 12 kills while hitting .229 for Concordia. Nibbe added seven kills and was in on five blocks. Sophomore Tara Callahan (21 assists) and junior Kaci Hohenthaner (20 assists) combined for 41 assists. Junior Kaylie Dengel dropped in three of the team’s four aces. It all added up to a victory that helps the Bulldogs (currently in eighth place) remain in the running for a top-eight conference finish required to qualify for the GPAC tournament.

Senior outside hitter Courtney Schafer has been hot for Briar Cliff. The reigning GPAC attacker of the week, Schafer bombed 18 kills and hit .306. She was by far the team’s best offensive weapon on a night when the Chargers were outhit, .142 to .089.

“I think our serving was better tonight,” Boldt said. “This week it’s been our focus. Last week we got beat in the serve battle. We’re going for it, but we’re also staying disciplined with our palm. We’re trying to be specific in what we’re giving them so they can focus on their fundamentals.”

The Bulldogs will have the rest of the weekend off. Next up on the schedule is Wednesday’s pink-out match versus 14th-ranked Hastings (11-5, 6-3 GPAC). First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. CT from Walz Arena. The two sides also met in Hastings on Sept. 20 with the result being a Bronco victory in four sets.