Grizzlies shock top-seeded Lopers in RMAC quarters
ASC defeats #5 UNK for first time in school history
KEARNEY, Neb.— In a day full of upsets at the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Volleyball Tournament, the Adams State College Grizzlies pulled without the biggest one of the day if not the biggest in school history as they rallied from a 9-6 deficit in the fifth and decisive set to claim victory over the nation’s fifth-ranked University of Nebraska-Kearney Lopers in front of a crowd of more than 1,500, Friday night in UNK’s Health & Sports Center.
The 22-25, 25-19, 25-22, 19-25, 15-13 win in the quarterfinal round of the tournament was ASC’s first in 22 all-time tries against the top-seeded Lopers and sends the eighth-seeded Grizzlies into the semifinal round against Regis, Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. CST in a match that can be heard on KSPK-FM (104.1 in Alamosa) and via the internet at www.kspk.com.
ASC’s victory capped a upset plentiful round as the top four seeds in the tournament all went down on Friday setting up a total dogfight for the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division II National Tournament that will go to the winner of Sunday’s 3 p.m. CST Championship match.
No. 6 seed Colorado Mines posted a 5-set win over No. 3 seed Metro State in the day’s opening match before No. 7 seed Mesa State took out No. 2 seed Western New Mexico in three sets later in the afternoon. The Orediggers and Mavericks, teams ASC is a perfect 3-0 against this season, will play in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. CST, Saturday.
Regis, the fifth seed had defeated No. 4 seed Fort Lewis, in a slight 3-set upset in the other quarterfinal of the evening session.
The Grizzlies, now 15-12 overall and winners of six of their last eight, had plenty of heroics, most notably from junior outside hitter Andrea Tuck (Erie, Colo.), who put down a career-high 29 kills while hitting .406. ASC also got a stellar effort from freshman AJ Palmer (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who started at setter for the first time in her collegiate career. Palmer, the Grizzlies’ libero in all previous 26 matches of the season, finished the night with 54 assists, 16 digs and six blocks out-dueling 2-time RMAC Setter of the Year Cola Svec, who had 53 assists and 15 digs for the Lopers, who lost for the first time at home in 51 non-NCAA Tournament matches.
UNK, now 31-3 overall, was led offensively by RMAC Player of the Year Jeri Walkowiak’s 15 kills. Although the Lopers will have to watch other teams go for the RMAC Tournament title, they will almost certainly receive one of the six at-large spots into next week’s Central Regional portion of the NCAA Tournament as they came into the weekend ranked third in the region and fifth in the Bison/American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Coaches Poll.
The Grizzlies, who had set points against then No. 7 UNK in both the first and second sets of a home match against the Lopers on Oct. 16, dropped Friday’s first set but rallied to out-hit the Lopers .312 to .041 in the second set.
Trailing 6-2 early in that set, the Grizzlies later went on a 11-1 run with sophomore Kelsey Miller (Las Animas, Colo.) and freshman Kelsey Huckle (Gunnison, Colo.) at the service line that pushed the Grizzlies to an 18-11 lead.
After a service error that cut the lead to 19-13, the Grizzlies got a kill from sophomore Sarah Dirmeyer (Albuquerque, N.M.) before she and Miller teamed for one of ASC’s 14 blocks to put the visitors up 21-13.
Darcy Jennings (Lakin, Kan.), who finished the night with match-high nine blocks, then put down two of her 14 kills down the stretch as she sent helped the Grizzlies go into the intermission even.
Down 13-11 mid-way through the third set, the Grizzlies went on another 7-1 run triggered by Dirmeyer kill, one of her 12 on the night. Tying the set at 13 with a block from Dirmeyer and Kimberly Ingram (Roswell, N.M.) near the start of that run, the Grizzlies gave the lead right back with a Tuck service error before Dirmeyer put down another kill and served the next five points to give the Grizzlies an 18-14 lead.
Still leading 20-19, the Grizzlies then went to their big guns as Jennings and Tuck, both named to the All-RMAC team earlier this week, combined to score each of ASC’s last five points on the set with kills.
Tuck, already ASC’s NCAA Division II era (1992-Present) career kills leader had four kills in that stretch alone.
Not able to close out the match in the fourth set after a 3-0 Loper run gave the home team an 18-15 lead and control of the set, the Grizzlies remained tough before back-to-back kills from Shelby Workman and a setting miscue gave the Lopers an 8-5 lead in the fifth set.
Jennings and Workman then traded kills after a Grizzly timeout before a 6-0 Grizzly run that featured two Tuck kills, a Jennings kill and joint block with Palmer followed by two Loper hitting mistakes reversed a 3-point deficit into a 3-point (12-9) lead.
The Lopers, who used both of their timeouts after the hitting mistakes, then got another kill from Workman and moved to within 12-11 on a Tuck hitting error before Jennings and Palmer blocked an Erica Burson attack to put the Grizzlies up 13-11.
Walkowiak answered with a smash to make the score 13-12 before Tuck set up two match points with a kill of her own. The first was wiped out by Walkowiak before a Burson attacking error, one of six that the Lopers had in the fifth set, gave the Grizzlies their historic win.
The Grizzlies were impressive defensively throughout the night holding the RMAC’s leading hitting team to a .167 attack percentage, 90 points below their season average. ASC, which had a big 14-4 edge in blocking, also posted an 86-82 edge in total digs.
Sophomore Amanda Strauss (Espanola, N.M.) led the charge as she recorded a career-high 26 digs after getting the start at libero in place of Palmer, who in turn replaced Megan Hawkins (Elizabeth, Colo.), the Grizzlies’ starting setter in each of the last 12 matches.
Workman, who started at libero as well before moving to a hitter role for the fourth set, had 18 digs to lead the Lopers.
The Grizzlies, who have now defeated two of the nation’s top 10 teams this season, have now qualified for the RMAC Tournament semifinals in each of the last two years. In 2007, the then seventh-seeded Grizzlies posted their first post-season win in four years with a win over RMAC regular season co-champion Fort Lewis in the quarterfinals.