Lopers survive early stumble, topple Washburn

UNK volleyball huddles during a match at the Health and Sports Center (KHGI)

KEARNEY --- Senior middle blocker Tara Ziegelbein had 18 kills and nine blocks to help fifth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney down 25th-ranked Washburn in four sets (23-25, -17, -13, -11) Friday night at the Health & Sports Center.

This was the MIAA opener for both squads. UNK (12-1) has now beaten Washburn (9-4) three straight times.

The first set wasn't a pretty affair as the teams combined for 17 hitting errors and three service miscues. UNK, ahead 19-17 and then 22-19, was seemingly in control but the 'Bods closed on a 6-1 run to take a 1-0 lead.

Washburn saw the Lopers uncharacteristically commit four straight unforced attack errors, making it 23-22. A block by Ziegelbein (Lincoln Lutheran) and junior setter Lindsey Smith (Dakota Dunes, S.D.) tied things up but back-to-back Ichabod kills ended things.

"It was really frustrating. We've shown a little bit of that over the last couple of weeks. But I still thought we were going to win the set," said UNK head coach Rick Squiers. "Washburn was more than happy to capitalize. We couldn't keep the ball on the court."

UNK bounced back in a big way, trailing only four times the rest of the night. The Lopers hit .421 (17-1-38) in set three and .343 (15-3-35) in set four. Meanwhile, WU ended the night with 40 kills and 30 errors (.061).

Ziegelbein reached her kill total in 38 swings (.368) and her block total tied a career high, set last year at Central Missouri. From the outside, senior Kaitlynn Thomas (Yutan) and junior Kendall Schroer (Ogallala) warmed up and combined for 28 kills with sophomore right side Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kan.) adding seven.

"I thought our upperclassmen did a great job of not panicking and being veterans. Tara played as well as I've seen her play here. That seemed to spark us," said Squiers.

Defensively, junior libero Ellie McDonnell (Papillion) had a match-high 21 digs with freshman Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha Marian) at a season-best 20. Finally, Smith and Schroer had four blocks apiece.

Washburn was led by Erica Montgomery (11 kills, 10 digs and two blocks).

Kearney faces Emporia State Saturday at 3 p.m.

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