Warriors lose heartbreaker in NAIA opener
SIOUX CITY, Iowa - The Lewis-Clark State College women's volleyball team suffered a frustrating, maddening, and tough setback in the opening round of pool play at the annual NAIA National Volleyball Tournament here on Tuesday.
After leads in the first two sets evaporate away into losses, the Warriors rallied to take the next two sets but didn't have enough to overtake Point Loma Nazarene University and fell to the Sea Lions 25-22, 26-24, 18-25, 22-25, 15-8.
The loss was only the second of the season for LCSC and snapped a 20-match win streak. The Warriors, ranked No. 9 in the NAIA, are 28-2 overall, while Point Loma Nazarene, ranked No. 17, is now 18-12.
"I just didn't think we played that well and our passing definitely hurt us," LCSC coach Jen Greeny said. "When those little things broke down, we just couldn't come through."
The setback put the Warriors in a tough spot. Only two teams from each of the six pools advance to the single-elimination portion of the bracket, meaning LCSC must win its final two pool play matches or get some help. The Warriors continue pool on Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. against Malone of Ohio.
Nicole Graybeal, the Frontier Conference's Player of the Year, led the Warriors with 18 kills, 3.5 blocks, and a .310 hitting percentage. Fellow middle blocker Jenika Bird-Jeppson added 12 kills and both earned praise from Greeny for their play.
Kelli Tikker added 10 kills, while Deddiy Alaimaleata had nine and Lauryn Herrick seven. Katie Hinrichs added 31 digs and two aces, while Kim Fong had 32 assists.
The Warriors hit .144 in the match, but a negative-.167 in the final set. Point Loma only hit .123, but did outblock LCSC 17-12.
In the opening set, things went LCSC's way early. The Warriors rode two kills by Graybeal to take leads of 3-0 and 5-1. LCSC's biggest lead came at 8-3 and the team held the upperhand until the Sea Lions scored three straight points to tie the set at 17.
Point Loma took its first lead of the set at 19-18, but LCSC tied it with the next point. The Sea Lions, however, scored the next three points and LCSC couldn't get closer than two points the rest of the way. Point Loma had a small edge in kills in the first set at 14-13, but a key was LCSC's eight hitting errors, while led to a .132 hitting percentage. Point Loma hit .225 in the set and also outblocked the Warriors 5-2.
"I thought in that first set we got up early and were playing well but we let them back into it because our passing errors," Greeny said. "And you can't do that at the national tournament."
The Sea Lions gained the upper hand early in the second set with a 5-2 lead. The Warriors battled back to tie it at 8, but the Sea Lions eventually went up by four at 15-11. After LCSC scored the next point, Point Loma ran off the next three for its largest lead at 18-12 and again at 19-13.
Behind a kill and a service ace from Herrick, the Warriors rolled off four straight points to cut the margin to 19-17. After a Point Loma timeout, the Warriors continued to rally and consecutive kills by Graybeal and Tikker, along with a PLNU attack error to tie the set at 21. Another attack error gave LCSC its first lead in the set at 22-21.
The Sea Lions, however, were able to rally down the stretch and go up 2-0 in the match.
"I don't really think we had jitters," Greeny said about the opening two sets. "Point Loma is a tough team and they play in a great conference. We just had too many little break downs, especially with our passing."
In the third set, the Warriors used kills by Jeppsen, Herrick and Alyssa Wold to run off four straight points for an 8-4 lead. PLNU rallied to cut the margin to 11-10, but the Warriors picked up the offense and used two kills by Alaimaleata to go on a 9-2 run for a 20-12 lead. The Sea Lions couldn't get closer than 22-18 the rest of the way. Kills by Tikker and Graybeal helped the Warriors score the final three points.
In the fourth set, it was a battle of streaks early. Both teams scored three straight points, before LCSC used a run for a 7-3 lead. Point Loma answered with a 6-0 run for a 9-7 advantage. The Warriors then ran off five of the next six points for a 12-10 lead.
The back-and-forth runs continued with Point Loma scoring seven of the next eight points for a 17-13 advantage. The Warriors answered with seven straight points as four different players had kills and Hinrichs added an ace. Point Loma cut the lead to 20-18, but two kills by Tikker and one each from Graybeal and Herrick helped the Warriors claim the win and force a fifth set.
"I'm happy with the way we fought back," Greeny said. "We definitely played better in the third and fourth sets."
In the final set, the Sea Lions jumped out to a 3-1 lead thanks to their blocking at the net. The Lions put the Warriors in a hole at 6-2. PLNU kept the pressure on and opened up its biggest lead at 10-3. The Warriors couldn't get closer than five, 12-7, the rest of the way.
"You just can't get down like that in the fifth set," Greeny said.
Despite the tough setback, Greeny says the Warriors should bounce back.
"This team has proved to be resilient all through the year so hopefully we can regroup and come out and play tomorrow like we are capable of playing," Greeny said.