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The Antelope

    The Lopers fall just short of the perfect season

    UNK volleyball team national runner-up photo


    The UNK women’s volleyball team fell one game short of a Cinderella ending at the Division II Volleyball Championships in Denver, Colorado Saturday night. In an action pact national title match of undefeated teams, the Lopers fell to Cal State San Bernardino three sets to one.

    “Congrats to Cal State San Bernardino, a heck of a team,” said UNK coach Rick Squiers. “They are a complete team, super physical and probably underrated in the fundamentals of the game. I was a little afraid of that coming into this match, you watch them on film and they really put pressure on you from the service line. They’re not just a bunch of hitters, their volleyball players.”

    To start set one, UNK came out and handled the electric atmosphere of 1,127 on hand as good as anybody in the country.

    Freshman Camryn Schuler (Gretna) had back to back kills and a well-timed pass from Maddie Squiers (Kearney) to Mary Katherine Wolfe (Omaha) for the kill tied the set up at 8-8.

    An attack error by the Lopers on the next play put the Yotes ahead at 9-8.

    It was at this point, that CSSB star Alexis Cardoza stepped to the service line for the first time in the game. With 509 kills on the season, she is known for her presence at the net, but it’s what Cardoza accomplished serving that pushed the Yotes ahead in set one.

    She continued to dial up tough serve after tough serve, forcing UNK into three straight attack errors before capping it off with a service ace.

    By the time the Lopers got her off the service line, the damage was already done. They trailed by five at 13-8.

    Late in the set, UNK got within two at 23-21, after Julianne Jackson (Bonner Springs, Kansas) found the bottom of the court for a kill.

    That was as close as the Lopers would get. Cardoza’s sixth kill of set one propelled the Yotes to a 25-22 win.

    “I think that they are a very physical team,” said senior outside hitter Jackson. “You think that you got them down to one option or you feel that you got a good up and you put it over the net and then they have some more heat coming back at you.”

    Despite the 1-0 deficit, UNK came out motivated in set two.

    Tied at 2-2, the Lopers got a kill by Wolfe and two straight kills from Jackson that helped them get out to a 6-2 lead.

    This was promptly wiped away, as CSSB got three kills from Cardoza and benefited from an attack error on UNK.

    Later in the set, the Lopers found themselves trailing 22-19 after another attack error.

    At this point, UNK did what it does best, made a comeback.

    It started with a kill by the newly subbed in Sami Mauch (North Platte). Maddie Squiers tough serving forced the Yotes into two straight attack errors to tie it up.

    The Lopers recorded three of the next four points to win set two 25-23.

    The overwhelming crowd factor was a huge component in throwing CSSB off their game toward the end of set two.

    “It was awesome that we were only five hours away so that a lot of people could come down and support,” said junior outside hitter Anna Squiers. “I am extremely thankful for everybody that came, that’s awesome. It almost felt like we were in Health and Sports Center in there.”

    In set three, the Yotes found a way to dominate from start to finish. With the score 14-10, CSSB rallied off four points in a row, thanks to two kills by Stephanie Doak.

    The eight-point deficit was too much to overcome, and the Lopers found themselves trailing two sets to one after a 25-17 defeat.

    The athleticism of the Yotes shined, thanks to a match low three errors in set three.

    “I think that everybody can see that they jump really high and hit really hard,” Rick Squiers said. “There middles both probably touch over ten feet.”

    With the season on the line, UNK had one last shot in set four.

    Midway through, the Lopers had a 15-13 advantage thanks to a kill by Jackson.

    CSSB didn’t falter, picking up two kills by Mehana Ma’a and Jalyn Hayes, to help spark another mini 4-0 run. After everything was said and done, UNK went from a two-point advantage to a two-point deficit in the blink of an eye.

    Despite the Lopers best efforts, they couldn’t stop two more three-point runs by the Yotes.

    The match and season were capped off with a kill by Doak, which propelled CSSB to their first-ever national title and a perfect 33-0 season.

    Leaders in the match were Doak and Cardoza with 20 kills apiece.

    “Cardoza is one of the best players I have ever seen in Division II,” Rick Squiers said. “She can play on anybody’s roster in the country, in any division. We were absolutely committing two blockers to her the entire evening. Two people who knew what they were doing, that were physical, and she still ends up with 20 kills and hitting .370.”

    For UNK, Anna Squiers had 13 kills followed by Jackson with 12 kills in her final match as a Loper.

    Jackson, Emma Benton (Grand Island), Josie Cox (North Platte) and Mackenzie Puckett (Grand Island) will go out knowing they were the senior group that got UNK over their recent regional woes and finished the season better than anyone could have expected.

    “Looking back at the beginning of this year, one of our main goals was to get past the first round of regionals,” said Anna Squiers. “I don’t know, I am just speechless looking back at this year. I couldn’t be happier for us, couldn’t be prouder of us and our seniors did a great job leading us all year.”

    The 2019 UNK volleyball team raised the bar for teams to come. Their the true definition of what buying into a dream and a goal can do.

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