Sterling defensive effort propels Bulldogs to GPAC semifinals

By on Nov. 9, 2014 in Volleyball

Sterling defensive effort propels Bulldogs to GPAC semifinals

SEWARD, Neb. – Coming off its first top-four league regular-season finish since 2001, the Concordia University volleyball team saved its best defensive effort for its most important match of a breakthrough 2014 campaign. In front of another electric Walz Arena crowd, the fourth-seeded Bulldogs blitzed fifth-seeded Hastings, 25-20, 25-22, 25-19, in Saturday night’s GPAC quarterfinal tilt.

In head coach Scott Mattera’s three seasons at the helm of the program, this may have been the finest performance he’s seen.

“We knew we were capable of this, we just hadn’t put it all together,” Mattera said. “Tonight – wow.”

The visiting Broncos (19-11) entered the postseason with three-straight GPAC wins, including one over then ninth-ranked Midland on Oct. 29. But the Bulldogs never let Hastings get in any offensive rhythm on this particular night. Concordia came up with 10 blocks (season high for three-set match) and suffocated the Broncos to the tune of negative hitting percentages in all three sets.

Known as a team centered upon powerful hitters, the Bulldogs made some late-season defensive adjustments that paid off in a significant way against a rival that it lost to in straight sets on Oct. 15.

“We’ve always been an offensive-minded team,” Mattera said. “Over the last three or four matches we changed our blocking and defensive patterns a little bit. Now we’re holding teams down. For us to be winning games defensively, we’re happy.”

Freshman Jocelyn Garcia led a balanced defensive effort with her nine digs. Garcia and company held a 36-32 edge in digs to aid a .182 to -.036 advantage in hitting percentage. The Bulldogs also hung right with the Broncos at the net. Ranked in the top 10 nationally in blocks, Hastings had only a slight 11-10 lead in that category.

It all added up to the first conference tournament win since 2008 when Concordia (then assisted by current Bronco head coach Matt Buttermore) defeated Dakota Wesleyan in four sets in a GPAC opening round match.

“It’s just really exciting to be able to be part of it my freshman year,” Garcia said. “The crowd really brought it. Them showing up meant a lot.

“Coach told us to come out and play our best game that we’ve ever played. We just did that. We knew we could. We came together as a team.”

The Bulldogs closed out the win by playing their sharpest offensively in the third and final game. Sophomore setter Alayna Kavanaugh floored kills for point Nos. 24 and 25 to oust Hastings from the postseason. Kavanaugh led all players with four kills during a third set that saw six different Bulldogs pound attacks to the hardwood. Concordia hit .286 as part of the night-capping set.

Sophomore Tiegen Skains put up a match-high nine kills. Teammates Claire White and Mariah Schamp followed with eight kills apiece. Kavanaugh racked 29 assists. Defensively, Schamp had six blocks and Skains had five. Senior Carli Smith chipped in eight digs.

Hastings, held to just 21 kills (24 attack errors) for the match, got seven kills from star Katie Zoucha.

The Bulldogs will move on to play at No. 6 Northwestern (29-3), which won the GPAC regular-season title with a 15-1 league mark. In the only meeting this season, the Red Raiders defeated Concordia, 25-18, 25-19, 25-20, in Orange City, Iowa, on Sept. 26. Northwestern pummeled Mount Marty in straight sets on Saturday to set up Wednesday’s semifinal matchup with the Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m.

“We played our best game against Hastings and we just have to do the same against Northwestern,” Garcia said. “They’re a great team. We know it’s not going to be easy from here, but we’re going to put our best work in.”