Third-set firepower not enough in home loss to No. 15 Northwestern

By Jacob Knabel on Sep. 22, 2018 in Volleyball

SEWARD, Neb. – A gauntlet of a week wrapped up on Saturday (Sept. 22) for the Concordia University volleyball program. The Bulldogs played three times in five days with two matches coming against GPAC opponents ranked inside the NAIA’s top 15. The learning process continued on homecoming with No. 15 Northwestern swooping into Walz Arena and leaving with a 25-23, 25-19, 28-26, victory.

After a 12-0 start, first-year head coach Ben Boldt’s squad has dropped five in a row while going up against competition from the NAIA’s toughest league. Concordia now stands at 12-5 overall and at 2-5 in GPAC play.

“We had 21 kills in that third set. That is what I want to see,” Boldt said. “Our blocking was good in those first two sets, but we weren’t killing the ball. It’s good to see us make the adjustment in that third set.

“Here’s what I told the team afterwards. ‘Here’s a hump. Here’s us. We need to get over the hump.’ Once we find that mentality, we’re going to be there. We’re just not there yet.”

Boldt went on to reference a tweet by former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, who detailed the stages a team goes through on the road to becoming a champion. Concordia is still in the stage of learning how to win against the big dogs of the GPAC. The third set on Saturday may have been a start. The Bulldogs trailed it 24-20 at one point, but came back to tie, 25-25 and 26-26, before dropping another nailbiter of a set.

That third set featured an offensive clinic run by both squads. Concordia somehow lost it despite hitting .488 with 21 kills and no errors. The Red Raiders (14-4, 5-1 GPAC) met the challenge by hitting .396 with 23 kills and just four errors in the third set. During that stretch, senior outside hitter Lauryn Hilger went off with seven of her match high 17 kills.

Northwestern outhit the Bulldogs, .257 to .202, and out-killed them, 50-37. Concordia owned a 9-5 advantage in blocks. Individually, sophomore Kara Stark led the Bulldogs with 10 kills on 26 attempts. Emmie Noyd blasted seven kills and added three blocks while Jenna Eller topped the team with 10 digs. Concordia heated up in the third set by getting the ball more frequently to Noyd and Morgan Nibbe (seven kills, .308) in the middle.

Northwestern is a difficult team to handle. The Red Raiders entered the day with national rankings of third in kills per set (14.2) and sixth in hitting percentage (.286). Facilitated by setter Lacey Wacker (42 assists), Northwestern again got the upper hand on the attack. Josie Blankespoor chipped in 10 kills.

Though the Bulldogs ended the week with losses at No. 13 Hastings on Thursday and to No. 15 Northwestern on Saturday, they are getting closer. Said Boldt, “We were flat against Doane (on Tuesday). After that we made an adjustment in practice. Even though it was a gauntlet of a week, we went hard in practice. We’re learning how to take big swings in big moments.”

The Bulldogs will be idle for nearly a week now before returning to action on Friday, Sept. 28 with a road contest at Jamestown (12-3, 4-2 GPAC) as part of a journey to the Dakotas. Concordia will also play at Dakota Wesleyan (11-6, 1-5 GPAC) the following day. The Friday match is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. CT.