Volleyball goes 1-1 in final weekend of regular season

Austin Svehla, Staff Writer

Wayne State volleyball went 1-1 this past weekend to finish with a 22-8 regular season record and qualify for the NSIC Tournament, earning the sixth seed. Last Friday, the Wildcats were defeated by Minnesota State in Mankato, but were able to rebound on Saturday afternoon with a victory against Concordia-St. Paul. The weekend split brought the ’Cats conference record to 13-7.

“Friday night, I thought we played really well at times,” head coach Scott Kneifl said. “Mankato was kind of backed up against the wall because they needed to win to get into the conference tournament and they played with a little more fight and fire than us, and I think that made the difference. We were right there, and they just made a couple more plays than us at the end.”

WSC fell victim to Minnesota State by way of a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-22, 25-23). The first set was a back-and-forth battle, as the Mavericks were able to build a 10-7 lead. Sophomore Maddie Duffy proceeded to record a service ace and a kill to draw the Wildcats closer and eventually tie the set at 18-18. However, a .326 hitting percentage from MSU led them on a 7-3 scoring run to prevail in the first set, 25-21.

The second set was a back-and-forth battle much like the first, as the Wildcats found themselves playing from behind once again. WSC was able to claw back into the second set as well, however, and managed to take an 18-16 advantage after trailing 16-15. The Mavericks offered an answer, knotting the set at 19 apiece. Both teams exchanged points until the score was 21-21, when MSU managed a 4-1 scoring run to win the second set 25-22.

The third set saw the Wildcats start off with a renewed momentum, as WSC jumped out to a 5-0 lead. MSU was able to grind back into the set, and eventually the Mavericks gained a 22-18 advantage. The ’Cats had one last scoring spurt in them, drawing within 23-22 to force a Maverick timeout. WSC was unable to capitalize at the end, falling 25-23 in the third set.

For the match, junior Katie Stephens and sophomore Alyssa Ballenger led the Wildcats with seven kills apiece while senior Megan Gebhardt recorded her sixth double-double of the season with 24 assists and 11 digs.

After Friday evening’s loss, the Wildcats traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota and responded with a 3-1 (28-26, 25-21, 17-25, 25-15) victory over Concordia University. The win sealed the Wildcats’ position as the sixth seed in the NSIC.

“We rebounded against a great Concordia team,” Kneifl said. “They’re ranked 6th in the country and number one in the region and we played extremely well. It was a full out team effort. Our kids just played with grit and it was really great to see.”

The first set was nothing short of a thriller, as the Wildcats led throughout the set, and were a point shy of taking the set, leading 24-21. The Golden Bears reeled off three consecutive points to even the set at 24-24. Each team then exchanged the next four points, and at 26-26, Ballenger recorded a kill and junior Tarrin Beller followed with a service ace to help WSC prevail in set one, 28-26.

The second set featured seven ties and three lead changes. Trailing 16-15, the Wildcats ripped off a 4-0 scoring run to take a 19-16 advantage. CSP was able to draw within 21-20, but a Golden Bear service error, a Ballenger kill, another service error, and a kill from Gebhardt helped the Wildcats earn four of the last five points of the set to prevail 25-21.

The third set saw CSP approach the Wildcats with a new energy. A .484 hitting percentage in the set led the Golden Bears to a 25-17 win to draw the match to 2-1.

The Wildcats switched the momentum back in their favor, as WSC was able to post a .464 hitting percentage with 14 kills and just one attack error in the fourth set. CSP found no answer for the Wildcats’ scorching attack, as the ’Cats were able to close out the set 25-15, winning the match 3-1.

Stephens led the Wildcats with 20 kills on the match, equaling her career high. Ballenger was also able to record a career high in kills, putting down 18 of her own.

“She (Stephens) is just a shot maker,” Kneifl said. “She’s done a great job for us in the front row this year. Alyssa Ballenger played really well as well, so we’re getting a lot of production from both of our outsides and it was really good to see.”