LC welcomes back Graybeal with sweep of UGF
The University of Great Falls volleyball team just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time on Thursday night when Lewis-Clark State College welcomed back senior All-American Nicole Graybeal (photo) to its lineup.
Feeding off the emotion of Graybeal’s return after an eight-match absence, the Warriors powered their way to a 25-17, 25-21, 25-17 Frontier Conference victory at the LCSC Activity Center.
The win lifts the 14th-ranked Warriors into a tie for first place in the conference standings at 3-1 and to 9-3 overall. Great Falls slips to 2-2 in FC play and 17-3 overall.
Graybeal, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Spokane, missed the last three weeks of play after injuring her foot in a match on Aug. 27. The team managed to go 6-1 in her absence (an eighth match was suspended with LCSC leading 2-0), but as the Warriors showed on Thursday, they can be a much different team with her in the lineup.
“In a word, ecstatic,” Graybeal said about her return to the floor and helped a balanced Warrior attack with seven kills. “I’m ecstatic to be back. I’ve missed 3½ weeks so it’s good to be back.”
Interestingly enough, it was her teammates that carried the emotion of Graybeal’s return onto the court. With senior Lauryn Herrick serving six straight points, including one on an ace, the Warriors raced out to a 10-2 lead in the first set before Graybeal even stepped on the floor.
“The past three days we have had some amazing practices,” LCSC coach LaToya Harris said. “We knew Nicole was coming back healthy. We have a whole new outlook. Our players trust each other and they are working very hard to all do their part for this team. If we do that, we can be very successful.”
The Warriors didn’t allow UFG to get closer than six the rest of the way in the first set, and then after falling behind 3-0 in the second set, the Warriors again rode the serving of Herrick for six straight points to take the lead for good. The Argos managed to keep the second game close but couldn’t get over the hump. That also was true in the third set when UGF had a 6-5 lead, but LCSC scored the next three points to take the lead for good.
Herrick, a senior outside hitter, had another solid outing with match highs of 14 kills and five service aces. She also added nine digs and had a .435 hitting percentage. Fellow senior outside hitter Kelli Tikker added 12 kills, four digs and a .500 hitting percentage, while Brianne Brown joined Graybeal with seven kills.
“Everyone was contributing tonight, which is what we want because you just don’t know where the next attack will come from,” Harris said. “We want a well-rounded attack that focuses on getting everyone involved.”
The Warriors hit .354 on the night, compared to .136 for the Argos. LCSC also had seven service aces and a 39-25 advantage in digs. Kaylee Rector had a match-high 10 digs.
“I really liked our defense,” Harris said. “Kaylee dug and passed very well and Chelsea Shears had some great ups for us and got the momentum back (in the third set). And I thought (setter) Nevena (Dragovic) did a great job of moving the ball around.” Dragovic finished with 34 assists.
“When everyone is one their game, we are a tough team because we have so much talent,” Graybeal said.
The Warriors look to carry the momentum into Saturday’s match against Montana State-Northern, which is also 3-1 in conference play. The contest begins at 2 p.m. at the Activity Center and $20 gets a family of four admitted to the match, along with four hot dogs and four sodas.