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The Antelope

Volleyball sets 2018 bar high

Mackenzie Puckett and the Lopers shake hands with the Gorillas after their win against Pittsburg State. Puckett has recorded 101 kills this season.

After a season of success and heartbreak a year ago, UNK volleyball players say they want to break through in 2018. 

“One of our motivations was our success in getting to regionals, but also our defeat in not getting past the first round,” said Ellie McDonnell, a senior libero on the UNK volleyball team. “The last three years that I have been here we haven’t got past the first round.” 

UNK finished 2017 as both the MIAA regular season and conference champions, but lost in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament to Missouri Western. The Lopers want to break this recent trend.

“I can tell you from our player’s perspective they want to get into the NCAA tournament and get past the first round,” said Rick Squiers, UNK volleyball coach. “If we can get to the tournament again, I think we have a group of people who are no longer satisfied with being there, but want to move on.”

During the offseason the team prepared extensively to make this goal a reality. This included a good set of spring practices and a high participation rate in summer conditioning.

“Every year we come in with a new roster and people looking to play in new positions,” said Lindsey Smith, a senior setter on the team. “We definitely take our time in the offseason and summer to get people involved in their new roles.”

UNK came into this season with an experienced roster. There are four starters on the team who are seniors with a lot of playing time under their belts.

“This group’s been through a lot together,” Squiers said. “We’ve got players who have played a whole lot of volleyball in a Lopers uniform, who are out there every night. They’re not going to see things that surprise them or scare them.”

So far on the season UNK is 13-1 and reached No. 1 in the Division II national rankings. The Lopers did this by winning the Cougar Classic at Cal State San Marcos, their home UNK Fall Classic, and the California Vulcan Invitational. The team attributes this success to experience and camaraderie within the group.

“I think we are more of a unit because we’ve played with each other for so long and we’ve gotten in the gym all summer to get to know each other,” McDonnell said. “We’re all best friends. There’s no drama.”

UNK was knocked off it’s perch atop the national rankings when the Lopers lost at No. 13 Washburn two weeks ago. UNK rebounded with three straight wins and is now ranked No. 4.

The Lopers will try to continue their success as they go on the road this week. It won’t be easy with games at No. 24 Regis University, Missouri Western State and Northwest Missouri State, which is undefeated in conference play.

“These next three weeks, are going to be tough for us, we have some tough road games,” Smith said. “Overall as a group, we need to continue to strive for that greatness mentality.”

As the players consider their lofty expectations, the one thing they don’t want to lose is hindsight of the little things.

“The No. 1 goal is to have fun and enjoy the game, never let the game get away from you,” McDonnell said. 

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