UCCS opens season with win over No. 23 Western Washington
It took the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs exactly one match to accomplish something no Mountain Lions volleyball team has done since at least 2001.
They beat a nationally-ranked opponent.
Behind 17 kills by Brooke Akers and 15 more from Diane Sheldon, UCCS defeated No. the 23-ranked Western Washington Vikings 3-2 (30-27, 23-30, 30-24, 20-30, 19-17) Friday at the 2007 Tampa Classic.
"Any win is a big win," said UCCS coach Jessica Wood. "We try not to focus on the ranking. We try to focus on the team at hand and they're a very, very good team.
"That was a very good test for our team and it was definitely a growing experience."
Jaime Anderson and Tiana Roma led Western Washington (1-1) with 18 kills each.
National rankings aside, it was a clash of styles. Western Washington employed the high-set, power setting style favored by teams like Nebraska-Kearney. UCCS, meanwhile, is in the process of transitioning to the quick-set style used by teams like Metro State and Fort Lewis.
"We've worked a lot on quicker offense," said Cortney Weedman, who alternates with Jessica Stewart at setter for the Mountain Lions. "We're doing short, quick sets on the outside to free it up for all the other hitters."
That speed is also troubling for opposing blockers, who have little time to adjust.
"The defense doesn't know where to go because it's so quick," said Weedman, who finished with a team-high 32 assists. "You end up with a lot of one-on-ones."
The results, at least for one match, were stunning. After giving up 18 blocks to Nebraska-Kearney in the final match of the 2006 season, the Mountain Lions opened 2007 allowing just two blocks to a Western Washington team that's a near mirror image of Kearney.
The Mountain Lions didn't look like a team in transition in Game 1, though. The quick-set offense took Western Washington by surprise in the early going as UCCS opened a 13-6 lead. After the Vikings closed to within two, a Stephanie Laband kill stopped the rally. Lindsay Myers then served a 5-0 run to put the Mountain Lions in control 23-15.
Laband, Sheldon and Heidi Fehringer each had four kills as UCCS took Game 1 30-27.
"The first game was crucial," said Laband, who finished with 12 kills and 11 digs. "We had to get that one so that everyone's confidence came up with it. We didn't let down.
"I think we totally surprised them."
The surprise didn't last. Western Washington responded like a nationally-ranked team, opening Game 2 with a 4-0 run and maintaining a 3-6 point lead through the first half of the game. UCCS answered with a 9-3 run, capped by two Laband kills and one by Akers (who had five kills in the game), to take a 19-18 lead. The Vikings, though, ended the rally by scoring five straight and coasted to a 30-23 win.
The Mountain Lions trailed in Game 3 before Cortney Weedman served an impressive 7-0 run that included three service aces to take a 13-9 advantage. Western Washington rallied to take the lead 22-20 when Weedman served another 7-0 run, this time with two aces. UCCS took the game 30-24.
"I wanted to ace the crap out of them," said Weedman. "I came out really focused. I wasn't even thinking about whether I was going to make it in or out."
Game 4 was all Western Washington, all the way. The Vikings opened up a 7-2 lead and UCCS never got any closer, dropping the game 30-20 despite five kills by Akers.
Fehringer had a kill, a block and an assist as UCCS opened a 5-1 lead in the deciding game. The Mountain Lions held the lead and had a chance at two match points at 14-12. The Vikings again showed the resilience indicative of a great team with three straight scores resulting in a match point of their own.
When speaking of resilience in this match, though, you have to include UCCS in the conversation.
"We kept pushing," said Laband. "I don't think we ever backed off."
A kill by Cassey Santucci ended the threat for the moment. Western Washington fought off two more UCCS match points but, with the score tied at 17, the Mountain Lions scored on consecutive blocks -- the first by Fehringer and Santucci and the second by Sheldon and Laband to take the win.
"It's an awesome way to start the season," said Laband. "We've worked our butts off. This is one heck of a feeling -- I've never felt this way before. It's great."
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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