Grizzlies to close out regular season at home in hopes of improving seeding
Parent's & Senior Night festivities on tap
ALAMOSA, Colo.— Although they have sealed up a third straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament berth, the Adams State College volleyball team has plenty to play for this weekend as the Grizzlies conclude the regular season with home matches against Western New Mexico and New Mexico Highlands on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Both matches begin at 7 p.m. in Plachy Hall and can be heard live on KSPK-FM (104. 1 in Alamosa) and via the internet at www.kspk.com. Friday’s match will be preceded by Parent’s Night festivities while Saturday night’s match will also double as Senior Night as Darcy Jennings-Calkins (Lakin, Kan.), the team’s lone senior, will be honored for her brilliant career before the match.
The Grizzlies, who can get above .500 once again with a weekend sweep, clinched a spot in next week’s RMAC Tournament to be played in Kearney, Neb. last weekend by claiming a 5-set come-from-behind win at Western State last Friday before coming from two sets down to force a fifth set at Fort Lewis a night later. Although, the Grizzlies lost that match to fall to 9-8 in RMAC play, by simply extending the match to five sets, the Grizzlies sealed up any tiebreakers and thus a spot in the tournament.
Now the Grizzlies are concerned about seeding and fine-tuning their play as they enter with the weekend in a seventh place tie with Western New Mexico in the overall RMAC standings. Although the Grizzlies can move up to the sixth seed with two wins and two Regis losses, Friday’s match against the Mustangs will likely determine which team gets the seventh seed and which team will be seeded eighth.
There is a major difference as the eighth seed will have to face the RMAC Tournament hosting and top-seeded Nebraska-Kearney Lopers in the quarterfinal round. The Lopers, ranked fourth in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association NCAA Division II Poll, sport a 29-1 overall record and are a perfect 17-0 in RMAC play heading into the final weekend of regular season play. They have won 23 straight matches, including one by convincing 25-15, 25-10, 25-9 scores last month
The seventh seed will get only a slightly easier first round draw in RMAC West Division champion Mesa State, 17-9 overall and 15-2 in RMAC play. Although those marks are still quite solid, the Grizzlies battled the Mavericks to a 5-set thriller on Sept. 28 in Alamosa and also took a set off the Mavericks just two weeks ago in Grand Junction.
To get a third crack at the Mavericks in the quarterfinals, the Grizzlies must first defeat Western New Mexico, mid-way through a long road trip that started with a 3-set Tuesday night drubbing at Mesa State. Falling to 11-14 overall and into the tie with the Grizzlies in the RMAC standings with that loss, the Mustangs themselves clinched a RMAC Tournament spot that night, not by their own doing, but rather by Fort Lewis’ 5-set loss at home to Western State which knocked the Skyhawks out of playoff contention.
Now the Mustangs, just 3-7 in their last 10 matches, hope to take advantage and earn themselves a rubber match with the Mavericks, a team they defeated in five sets back on Sept. 12 in Silver City, N.M.
The Mustangs, who had won each of their previous matches, have five players with 100 or more kills this season, a group led by 5-foot-10 junior outside hitter Natali Murdock, who has 293, a 3.29 per set average that ranks her sixth in the RMAC. She also leads all regular Mustang hitters with her .215 attack percentage and put down 11 kills while hitting .409 in the Sept. 19, 3-set (25-21, 25-21, 25-20) win over the Grizzlies in New Mexico.
Freshman middle blocker Ziona Verhulsdonk, a former Hawai’I Prepatory Academy teammate of Grizzly right side hitter Vanessa Cushnie (Kamuela, Hawai’i), finished that match with 12 kills and a .417 attack percentage. She is second on the team overall with 182 kills this season.
Setter Ellen East, the Mustangs’ lone senior, is averaging 8.46 assists per set, eighth best in the RMAC, and is also second on the team with her 2.64 dig per set average. Sophomore libero/defensive specialist Marilee Frost leads the Mustangs in that category with 342 digs, a 3.76 per set average that ranks her seventh in the conference.
The Grizzlies’ go-to-player is certainly Jennings-Calkins, a 6-foot-1 middle hitter. She leads the entire RMAC in both blocks (1.32/set) and total points (4.65) and ranks third in kills (3.72), and fifth in hitting percentage (.332).
Coach Lindy Mortensen has also received some strong offensive play from her two freshman outside hitters Dominique Davis (Denver, Colo.) and Callyn Weyenberg (Gilbert, Ariz.) as well as junior middle hitter Kelsey Miller (Las Animas, Colo.), who plays opposite of Jennings-Calkins in the rotation. Davis, who has been in double figures for kills in 18 of the team’s 25 matches, leads all RMAC freshmen with 297 kills, a 3.16 per set average that ranks her 10th amongst all RMAC players. Weyenberg has 159 kills thus far, including a career-high 15 in last week’s win at Western State, while Miller is fourth on the team with 140. She also ranks third on the squad in blocking with 50 and his hitting .175, second only to Jennings-Calkins on the squad.
Junior setter Mary McNeil (Phoenix, Ariz.) and some strong defensive play from multiple players have also aided the Grizzlies. McNeil ranks fifth in the RMAC with her 9.70-assist per set average and is second on the team in blocks with 65, a 0.73 per set average.
Sophomore libero AJ Palmer (Colorado Springs, Colo.) leads the Grizzlies in digs with 365, a 3.88 per set average that ranks her sixth in the RMAC. Sophomore Kelsey Huckle (Gunnison, Colo.) and freshman Valerie Garcia (Colorado Springs, Colo.), who play in the back row for Davis and Weyenberg, have also chipped in another combined 294 digs, nearly evenly.
Although the Grizzlies are certainly concentrating on their match with Western New Mexico, they will also have to devote some preparation time to Saturday’s match against New Mexico Highlands as they will also need to beat the Cowgirls in order to improve their seeding.
The Cowgirls enter the weekend with a 1-26 overall record and are still in search of their first RMAC win at 0-17.
Junior middle hitter Dominique Benton leads the team with 174 kills and 79 blocks while senior outside hitter Doreen Zamora leads the team with 191 digs while standing second on the team in kills with 142.
Second-year coach Jim Deisler has used a variety of setters throughout the season, including junior Linda Stevens, who has 377 assists, a 4.77 per set average. She also has a team-best .191 hitting percentage.