Kearney, Neb. – The fifth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team overcame a slow start to down Pittsburg State in four sets (23-25, -14, -20, -12) Friday night at the Health & Sports Center.
UNK (27-2, 14-1) wins a 12th straight match and pushes its home court win streak to 50 in a row, tied for the ninth longest such streak in Division II history.
It was anything but easy against a young and improving Gorilla (5-22, 2-13) squad. The Lopers trailed most of the first set before falling by two and then pulled away late in the third set to take a 2-1 match lead. Overall, Kearney out hit Pitt .190-.050 and dug up 14 more balls, 82-68.
“It was frustrating (losing the first set). Our players know that everyone in our league can come in here and play with you. But even when you know that I think sometimes you fully don’t expect that,” said Loper head coach Rick Squiers. “Pitt State is a much improved team.”
The Lopers got 12 kills from junior outside Kendall Schroer (Ogallala) and senior middle Tara Ziegelbein (Lincoln Lutheran) with sophomore outside Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) at 11 kills and 12 digs. From the right side, freshman Anna Squiers (Kearney Catholic) hit a team-high .308 and registered eight kills.
“They are playing a different setter (Camryn Blanton) and she has really sparked them. It seems like they’ve taken on her personality. And she’s just a warrior,” said Squiers. “They also got some athletes on the outside side and right side and we didn’t block them consistently enough to really control the match.”
Pitt got 11 kills from sophomore outside Erik Ivkov, nine kills and three blocks from junior middle Lauren Regier and five aces to hang around most of the night. Blanton ended with 31 assists, 11 digs, three kills, a block and assist.
UNK led the third set by just an 18-17 score before Pitt committed an unforced attack error and Omaha freshman Marty Katherine Wolfe served up an ace. After a Gorilla timeout, an Ivkov kill and Loper error made it a one-point deficit again. Kearney closed on a 5-1 run that featured two Ziegelbein kills.
“It was the kind of match where you’re just trying to find your way through it and thankfully we did that,” said Squiers. “We got a little jumpy early in the first set, spraying some balls out of bounds. We played better in the second half of that set and we told them that if we just play like that we’ll be fine.”
Defensively for UNK, Wolfe recorded a match-high 20 digs and Ziegelbein had four blocks.
The Lopers hosts 11th-ranked Central Oklahoma (26-3, 13-2) tomorrow at 7 p.m.