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Kearney, Neb. – Senior middle Tara Ziegelbein had 16 kills and eight blocks and junior outside Kendall Schroer added 15 kills to help seventh-ranked Nebraska-Kearney beat 18th-ranked Central Missouri in four sets (22-25, -15, -27, -14) Friday night in an MIAA Tournament semifinal match at the Health & Sports Center.
UNK (32-3), now riding a 54-match home court winning streak, will face Missouri Western State in the finals tomorrow at six. The Griffons (23-9) pushed its winning streak to 13 in a row by rallying past 12th-ranked Central Oklahoma in five sets (23-25, -24, 26-28, -20, -10).
A young UCM team, staring four freshmen, was playing for its life as the recent NCAA Region Rankings didn’t have the Jennies in the top 10. Shaking off a 17-8 first set deficit, they closed on a 17-5 run to stun the home folk and grab a 1-0 match lead. Redshirt freshman outside Hannah VanBuskirk capped the big rally with back-to-back kills.
The Lopers got off the mat and responded by hitting .355 (15-4-31) in the second set. This time, UNK didn’t blow a 17-9 lead as Ziegelbein (Lincoln Lutheran) smashed home seven kills in nine swings. Kearney also had three of its four aces in the set.
“Tara and Kendall were unbelievable, especially at the start of the second set. We talked with (setter) Lindsey (Smith) between sets and told her we have to give them more Tara early and often,” said Loper head coach Rick Squiers. “She responded and Lindsey put her in a good spot. Tara can demoralize a defense. Kendall was hitting some balls as hard as I’ve ever seen her hit a ball.”
The match was decided in a third set that featured 14 ties and seven lead changes. This time, it was UCM’s turn to grab a big lead as a kill by freshman middle Audrey Fisher made it 15-8. UNK came back to tie things at 19 on a Ziegelbein kill and then back-to-back unforced hitting errors put the Lopers ahead by two.
The two teams continued to trade punches with both fighting off two set points. Finally, an unforced Jennies attack error and a solo stuff by Ziegelbein ended the things and the crowd of 737 erupted.
“This went about how we thought it would. You’re playing somebody who wants to keep playing,” said Squiers. “They were young when we played them the first time. They’ve grown up a little and they have plenty of weapons.”
Kearney dominated the fourth set, having 14 kills and holding UCM to a negative .086 hitting percentage (7-10-35). Sophomore outside Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) had seven of her 12 kills in this set as well as four blocks. Fittingly, the final points of the night came via two Ziegelbein kills.
“We got them out of system off and on but when we didn’t, they were a handful. They also got us stuck in a rotation a couple of times and it was harder than heck to get out of,” said Squiers. “They got caught in rotation too and didn’t know what to do either.”
Ziegelbein, in 40 attack attempts, had match-highs in kills and hitting efficiency (.325). Next, Schroer had three digs besides her kill total with Jackson having 20 digs and seven blocks to go along with her offensive output. Finally, junior libero Ellie McDonnell (Papillion-LaVista) had a team-best 22 digs.
For UCM, VanBuskirk and Kasey Hohlen each had 12 kills, libero Kylie Hohlen had a match-high 30 digs and Fisher managed nine kills and eight blocks. Saturday’s championship match will start at 6pm and can be heard on 93.1 KRVN FM and krvn.com