UCCS gives No. 1 Kearney all it can handle
Not much changed for the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers after they defeated the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 3-0 (33-31, 30-20, 30-27) Saturday at the Lions' Den.
Plenty may have changed for the Mountain Lions, though.
Few could have blamed the Lopers for taking Saturday's match lightly. They came into the match undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally. Against Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opponents, Nebraska-Kearney had lost only a single game.
By the same token, few could have blamed CU-Colorado Springs for being intimidated to the point of paralysis by the powerful Lopers. The Mountain Lions, although greatly improved this season, had won only 10 matches combined in 2002 and 2003.
That's not what happened Saturday. Instead, CU-Colorado Spring gave America's best Division II team all it could handle.
"I am very pleased. The girls played very well," said CU-Colorado Springs coach Jessica Wood. "They were here to play hard and have fun because they knew it would be a battle. And that's exactly what we gave (Kearney) - a huge battle."
The Mountain Lions defense was solid, holding the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's most potent attack to a .229 hitting percentage. The Lopers (25-0, 13-0 RMAC) came into the match hitting .321 for the season.
"We had a massive block out there and that forced them to make some mistakes," said Wood.
The defense was augmented by a strong service game, although the statistics would disagree. Despite having only two aces and 13 errors, CU-Colorado Springs servers consistently forced the Lopers to make difficult passes, preventing setter Bethany Spilde from setting up her huge front line as effectively as she would have liked.
"We served them tough. We served them very tough," said Wood. "We were willing to miss a couple of serves to take them out of their offense."
It worked. And with Kearney struggling to mount its usual deadly attack, CU-Colorado Springs took advantage with creative counterattacks made possible by the heady play of setter Lindsey Hillegass.
"(The Lopers) are huge, absolutely huge. I mean they know the definition of creating a wall, that's for sure," said Wood. "But the girls did a good job. We were hitting around them, hitting high and confusing them, and Lindsey was creating splits so half the time we had one-on-ones."
Making the attack possible was a back line that put Hillegass, who had 41 assists, in good position. Freshmen Laura Meeter, Natalie Newberry and Andrea Weedman showed their improving maturity by handling both the power game and the dinks.
"Our passing was great," said middle blocker Caroline Ottino, who had 10 kills. "Our back row was did a good job being aggressive on defense. Our serve receive was just passing nails to Lindsey, and she set well."
Jill Wrenn and Weedman had 11 kills for CU-Colorado Springs (11-9, 6-6 RMAC), while Kelley Angel added 10 kills and four block assists.
Erin Gudmundson had 13 kills and Erin Arnold added 10 kills and 17 digs for Nebraska-Kearney.
The Lopers looked every bit the part of national powerhouse. The Mountain Lions, meanwhile, looked nothing like the second-division patsy that some in the RMAC might have expected.
"Kearney is very good. They have great players but I think more than anything they smart. They don't make a lot of mistakes," said Ottino. "We have the same type of athletes, we just aren't smart on the court yet. We are still learning to mesh together."
CU-Colorado Springs came agonizingly close to handing Nebraska-Kearney its second lost conference game. The Mountain Lions led 25-22 in Game 1, but errant hit by Wrenn and consecutive edgy lift calls against Hillegass tied the game at 25. The Lopers went on to win the game 33-31.
"When we come out and play our game we give a lot of teams a run for their money," said Ottino. "If we play like that against other teams we'll be beating them."
CU-Colorado Springs raced out to a 4-1 lead in Game 2 and was tied at 12 before Nebraska-Kearney went on an 18-8 run to go up two games to none.
Nebraska-Kearney led 28-23 in Game 3 when the Mountain Lions rallied to make it close. A pair of kills by Ottino and a service ace by Newberry closed the deficit to two, by CU-Colorado Springs could get no closer, losing 30-27.
As the teams left the court, it was difficult to discern which team was the winner. The Mountain Lions had a look of confidence and satisfaction that had been missing from the Lions' Den over the past couple of seasons. And not a moment too late, with No. 12-ranked Fort Hays State coming to town on Sunday.
"This is a huge step for us," said Wood. "We know we can hang with a team like this. (The Mountain Lions) are fired-up and ready to play tomorrow. They are ready to take some people."
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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