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The Antelope

Do you believe in miracles? UNK to the Elite Eight

Photo by Jiyoon Kim


The No. 2 ranked UNK women’s volleyball team won the NCAA Central Regional title Saturday night in the Health & Sports Center. It was Kearney’s first regional final trip since 2012 when they lost to Concordia-St.Paul in four sets. 

“We played amazing,” said junior outside hitter Anna Squiers. “I am so proud of every single one of those girls.”

UNK’s first-round match against Oklahoma Baptist was back and forth in the beginning. In the first set, there were 12 ties and five lead changes. After a 5-3 run, the Lopers capped the spurt by winning the first set 25-21. 

In the second go-around, UNK kept spreading the ball around well on offense and held leads of 7-2, 16-10 and 19-12 before finally winning 25-17. 

In set three, the Bisons could not generate an answer to the Lopers attack and block at the net. They ended up getting outscored 25-16 and UNK got the straight-set sweep.

The Loper‘s ability to dig balls and be flawless in their attack played a crucial role in the Oklahoma Baptist win. UNK recorded 41 assists and 69 digs in the match compared to 34 assists and 54 digs for the  Bison.

“Coming in here you always know it is going to be a good team across the net,” said senior outside hitter Julianne Jackson. “It is always nerve-racking so you just got to come in and play and I think we played our best tonight.” 

On Friday evening in the semifinal match, UNK’s opponent was No. 8 Northern State University. The Lopers were on fire and jumped out to a quick lead with strong serving, grabbing a 5-0 lead which ballooned to 9-1, 17-7 and then finally 25-12. 

The Wolves battled back in the second set, grabbing leads of 4-1, 7-4 and 9-6. UNK broke a 10-10 tie with a 9-4 run, featuring five kills and four Northern State miscues, and powered through to win 25-20. 

With a 25-18 win in set three, the Lopers sealed the match victory and advanced to the “Sweet 16”.  

“Our defense was outstanding,” said Anna Squiers. “There were girls making lots of plays and our block and touches were amazing. We are a great team and our defense really handled Northern State well.”

In the final, on Saturday night UNK faced third-seeded and third-ranked Concordia-St. Paul, nine-time NCAA Division II Champions.

The Lopers ran into a tough opponent who closed the first set out 25-19. 

In the second go-around, UNK turned the tabled, winning 25-19. 

After a close head-to-head battle in the third set, the Golden Bears scored the final four points to improbably win 26-24. 

Concordia had control over the fourth set, leading 20-11. Dead in the water, the Lopers kept a cool head and found a way to stop the Golden Bears. A block and three Jackson kills gave UNK its first lead which turned into a 25-23 set-victory to tie the match 2-2.

 In the fifth set, the Lopers rallied from a 9-4 hole to beat Concordia 15-13 and win the NCAA Central Regional title. UNK out hit Concordia by a .211 to .179 margin and also managed five more team blocks, 16-11. 

“We were not in a good situation,” said UNK head coach Rick Squiers. “We fought a lot of adversity tonight, did not play well early, let a set get away from us that was a tough blow to deal with at that time and then dug a huge hole. It is the most improbable victory I’ve ever been a part of. This group of players deserves an unbelievable amount of respect for what they just did, as does Concordia for playing a great match.”

 UNK competes in a matchup with the Atlantic Regional Champions Gannon University (30-6) from Erie, Pennsylvania. It will be at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec.12 at the Auraria Event Center in Denver, Colorado.

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