By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska Wesleyan University easily won the first set, but had to come from behind in the second and third sets, as the host Pioneers downed Willamette University, 3-0, at the Prairie Wolf Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 9. NWU prevailed 25-16, 25-22, 25-23 and advanced its record to 6-2, while finishing the tournament with a 3-1 record. The Bearcats, who slipped to 3-5 overall, went 2-2 in the tournament.
"In the last two sets we had leads and couldn't hold on … a couple of errors that were costly and Nebraska Wesleyan just played pretty well and wore us down," Willamette Head Coach Tom Shoji said. "And it's a matter of us still being pretty young out there with freshmen and sophomores doing a lot for us."
The teams split the first two points of the match, before Nebraska Wesleyan went on a 6-0 run for a 7-1 lead. The run included three kills by the Pioneers and three attacking errors by the Bearcats. WU scored the next three points on a kill by Emma Liband (Sr., MH, Sandpoint, ID/Sandpoint HS) and back-to-back combo blocks by Liband and Jaiden Mason (Fr., S/OPP, Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian School). A bit later, Willamette pulled within 10-9 on an attacking error by NWU, but the Pioneers countered with a 5-0 run and kept a comfortable lead for the rest of the set.
Willamette and Nebraska Wesleyan battled through eight ties and five lead changes in the second set. WU went on a 6-1 surge to take a 10-5 lead. The run started with kills by Liband and Kendall Fox (So., OH, Dupont, WA/Steilacoom HS) plus a service ace from Mason. After Mason's ace, Kierra Harder registered a kill for NWU. The run by Willamette concluded with another kill from Liband and an attacking error by the Pioneers.
The lead was wiped out when Nebraska Wesleyan won six consecutive points to gain an 11-10 advantage. Even so, Willamette eventually owned a 16-13 lead. The Pioneers earned the next four points, including one kill each by Sidney Mell and Hannah Bellinghausen, to move back in front 17-16. WU tied the game at 17-17 and 18-18, but a Willamette attacking error and a kill by Mell, gave NWU a 20-18 edge.
A kill by Fox got WU as close as 22-21, and the Bearcats were within 24-22 before Bellinghsusen ended the set with a kill.
In the third set, the Bearcats held leads of 6-3, 8-4 and 10-7 over the Pioneers. A bit later, WU was in front 13-10 following a solo block by Mason. The Bearcats fought off Nebraska Wesleyan for a number of points, as the Pioneers cut the lead to a single point several times, including 17-16 after a kill by Cora Svoboda. Willamette tacked on a kill by Liband and an attacking error by NWU for a 19-16 edge.
NWU tied the set at 21-21 on a combo block by Bellinghausen and Karrie Sestak. The Bearcats edge into a 22-21 lead when Bellinghausen committed a blocking error on a kill by Lauren Stiles (So., OH, Altadena, CA/Flintridge Preparatory School).
The next three points went to the Pioneers. Mason answered with a kill to bring WU within 24-23, but Harder followed with a kill for Nebraska Welseyan to end the match.
Harder paced all players with 12 kills. Sestak added nine kills for the Pioneers. Bellinghausen totaled seven kills, while Sidney Mell registered 12 digs and six kills. Lizzie Saale produced nine digs. Anna Gottsch supplied 21 assists and Kelsie Stovall earned 18 assists.
Liband and Mason connected for six kills apiece for the Bearcats. Liband recorded a .273 hitting percentage, and led all players with five total blocks. Fox tacked on five kills, while Jennifer Lane (So., MH/OH, Salinas, CA/Notre Dame HS) achieved four kills and hit .273. Lane and Nicolette Seina (Fr., LIB/DS, Honolulu, HI/Moanalua HS) each made seven digs for Willamette. Morgan Webster (Jr., S/DS, Milwaukie, OR/Milwaukie HS) finished with 12 assists and six digs. Mason accumulated 11 assists, five digs and four total blocks.
"A lot of youth and they're getting better, but to sustain two matches a day, that's pretty hard," Shoji said. "I think we're well prepared for the conference. It's taught us a lot … what we need to do against conference teams. Our young kids have developed a lot faster than I thought they would. They're pretty battle tested now. They've played some pretty tough volleyball."
Willamette is set to open Northwest Conference play at archrival Linfield College on Friday, Sept. 15. Match time is scheduled for 7 p.m. (PDT) in McMinnville, Oregon.