Peter Yazvac, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
DENVER – The second-ranked Nebraska-Kearney volleyball team recorded 14 blocks and got kills from eight different players to down Gannon University (19-25, -22, -17, -15) in a national quarterfinal match Thursday night in Denver, Colo.
The second-seeded Lopers (37-0) will face third-seed and 19th-ranked Rockhurst in the Final Four Friday at 6 p.m. Central. The RU Hawks (33-7) swept Carson-Newman to win today’s first match. Earlier this year in the Health & Sports Center UNK beat Rockhurst in four tough sets.
“We’re thrilled to be moving on and playing tomorrow. It was a very hard match and Gannon was fantastic opponent. We congratulate them on an unbelievable season. They came right out after us and had us on our heels for a good chunk of that match,” UNK head coach Rick Squiers said.
The Golden Knights (30-8) came out firing BB’s from the service line, back row and all over the court. Against a UNK defense that is among the nation’s best in hitting percentage (.112) and digs per set (212GU smashed home 18 kills and hit .366 (18-3-41) to win by six. The Knights, getting seven early kills from senior outside Ally Smith, trailed only 1-0, dug up 20 balls and had five early service aces.
“Credit our girls for just hanging in there even though things were really a struggle for a good period of time. We eventually fought our way into a rhythm and were able to get a little better control of things. It was definitely anybody’s match through three sets. That’s how we’ve been this year … pretty gritty, pretty tough. We got some people who are very competitive,” Squiers said.
Gannon had 14 more kills in set two but UNK got out to leads of 6-3, 12-4 and 18-13. Senior outside Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) started to come alive, having seven kills in nine attempts with zero errors (.778 pct.) with junior right side Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian) providing five kills in seven swings. Back-to-back kills by Jackson and Wolfe made it 23-17 and then another Jackson kill and unforced GU error ended the set.
“We were a little tight (early on). They were just bombs away from the service line and kind of on the run in every respect. We then let some routine plays get away from us on defense. But some of that is they are pretty good,” Squiers said.
Gannon’s hitting efficiency went down as the match went along, falling to .025 (13-12-41) in the third as UNK recorded six of its 14 team blocks. Four different players had two apiece including three by junior setter Madison Squiers (Kearney Catholic). A 4-0 Loper spurt erased a 14-13 deficit and featured two blocks and a Wolfe ace. The Golden Knights struggles continued as they eventually fell behind 21-15 with three UNK points coming unforced attack errors.
Kearney closed the night out by getting out to a 12-6 lead in the fourth. Gannon hung around but four different Lopers had at least three kills in this set including redshirt freshman outside Sami Mauch (North Platte). And senior middle Josie Cox (North Platte) came up big with three stuffs and a kill.
“The back row attack stuff was probably as good as we’ve seen all year and even better than I thought,” Squiers said. “We wore them down a little bit … dug some balls and some of their offense leveled off. Some of those swings starting flying out of bounds.”
Gannon managed eight more kills, 56-48, in the match but also recorded 15 more attack errors, 14 of the unforced variety. The Knights did served up seven aces but had none over the final two sets while having eight miscues. Finally, UNK dug up 66 balls and almost had 11 more blocks than the GU.
Individually Jackson had 13 kills, 13 digs and hit .367 with Wolfe at 12 kills and a .333 hitting percentage. Next junior middle Anna Squiers (Kearney Catholic) came in at 10 kills, five blocks and a .320 efficiency with Madison Squiers and sophomore libero Lindsay Nottlemann both digging up 12 balls.
Smith paced GU with 19 kills and a .325 hitting percentage with sophomore right side Ashley McClung (14) and sophomore middle Maggie Greenfield (11) combining for 25 more kills.