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Loper Volleyball spikes competition, off to roaring 11-1 start
Matthew Iberg
Antelope Staff
Photo by Rachael Cochran
Grand Island junior, Jeri Walkowiak, kills the ball. Walkowiak had 11 kills and scored 15 points over UNO. UNK defeated the Mavs in five sets in front of a crowd of nearly 3,000.

Out hit and out blocked, the ninth-ranked UNK volleyball team found a way to beat 23rd-ranked UNO. If you weren’t one of the 2,388 fans in attendance on Wednesday you missed an incredible match.

“The atmosphere was great,” Manchester, Iowa native, Katlyn Heiserman said. “This place was rocking.”

“I’ve never heard this place so loud before,” Cola Svec, a junior from Elkhorn, said.

“Players and coaches enjoy playing in this type of environment,” UNO head coach Rose Shires said. “Every program should take a lesson from Kearney. The fans made it a fun match while treating both teams with respect.”

The Lopers outlasted the Mavericks 28-30, 25-23, 25-23, 21-25, 16-14 in front of the third-largest regular season crowd at the Health and Sports Center (and the seventh-largest in Division II). The crowd nearly blew the roof off of the building when the ball dropped on UNO’s side to end a 2-hour and 20-minute defensive marathon.

About the only statistical column UNK led was digs. The Lopers out dug the Mavericks 102-100. A small difference, but important nonetheless.

“I felt that we won in every statistical area but score,” Shires said. “They caught a few lucky breaks at the end.”

UNO had 20 blocks on the night, including 14 from Ellen Thommes, a senior from Omaha. Thommes had three solo blocks and 11 assisted. She tied a school record for blocks in a single match that has stood for 22 years.

“I think maybe we made more hustle plays and covered a lot of balls,” UNK head coach Rick Squiers said of his team’s defense. “A stat you don't keep is cover digs. A lot of balls come back off their block and we dug a lot of those up and got another swing.”

Thommes was held to a season low .129 hitting percentage as the Lopers played keepaway with her.

“We saw that UNK committed to number 8 [Thommes],” Shires said. “That put a lot of pressure on our outsides to deliver.”

UNK beat UNO for the third straight year and the eighth time in the last nine years.

The match was close from beginning to end. The score was tied 44 times with 17 lead changes throughout the night.

"In the epic UNK-UNO battles, it consistently goes down to the wire,” Shires said.

Less than 24 hours after a physically, mentally and emotionally draining game, the Lopers took the court again against Colorado Christian. No sweat.

The Lopers pounced on the Cougars, taking the match in three straight sets, 25-6, 25-19, 25-16.

In the match, the Lopers played 17 of their 18 player roster.

"Last night took a lot out of us,” Squiers said. “I was hoping to use some of our fresh people. Most of them did very well.”

"I think it was harder to prepare for tonight than last night because we were aware the crowd wouldn't be as big, and we had to bring the intensity rather than have so much help from our crowd," Gretna native, Erica Burson said.

Burson finished the night with 12 kills and a .324 hitting percentage as an outside hitter.

On Saturday, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs came to the Health and Sports Center with six transfers, five from Division I programs, including former University of Florida starting setter, Cindy Bathelt. The match was over before it even started.

UNK routed UCCS in three sets, 25-11, 25-11, 25-11.

"I thought we played about as well from start to finish tonight as we have all year,” Squiers said. “I know (UCCS) is a better team than the scores indicate.”

The Lopers once again rotated in subs through out the night, playing 16 players in the sweep.

Junior right-side hitter, Kelsey Werner from Grand Island, led the team with four of the team’s nine service aces on the night.

“I didn't count on them to struggle so much on serve receive,” Squiers said.

UCCS was never in system, unable to pass, hit or serve tough. UNK easily played one of the best games of the season with eight players hitting above .300. Jeri Walkowiak, a junior from Grand Island, led the team with 13 kills and four blocks.

“I think that coming off a real long weekend,” UNK Graduate Assistant, Natasha Marquis said, “playing an intense and emotional match against UNO on Wednesday, only to play again the next night, then to end the week with last nights performance against UCCS, offers a glimpse of the potential this team possesses.” 

UNK is now 11-1 on the year and 2-0 in the RMAC. They will travel to Colorado over the next two weekends to face Colorado Mines, Regis, Metro State (currently ranked 14th in the nation) and Chadron State.

The team will return home on Oct. 1 to open three straight nights of volleyball at the Health and Sports Center when Colorado State-Pueblo, Adams State and Western State come to town. All games will start at 7 p.m.

Video by Rachael Cochran

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