Lady Blues fall short to top ranked Lopers

Washburn was able to steal away the fist set against the No. 1 ranked UNK lopers, but hitting errors ultimately doomed the Lady Blues who fell 3-1, Washburn lost 22-25, 25-23, 25-16 and fell a spot in the AVCA rankings to fourth.

Luke Warnken

In the biggest game of the season thus far in Division II volleyball, the No. 3 ranked Washburn Lady Blues came out ready to play hardball. The Blues showed no fear when they stepped on the court to face off against the No. 1 ranked University of Nebraska-Kearney Lopers at UNK’s Health & Sports Center.

“We were ready to play,” said Chris Herron, Washburn head coach.

Washburn shook off any jitters and rust from their game the night before. The Lady Blues trailed early in the opening set but Washburn was able to claw their way back, claiming the first set 25-22 behind a stellar performance by senior hitter Jessica Kopp. Kopp tied her career high with 15 kills, but the Lopers responded and proved why they were top team in the country by winning the next three sets to win the match.

“We passed well. We served well,” said Herron. “Usually when that happens, you win.”

In the second set the game was tied at 21-21 after 17 ties in the set. Washburn was unable to take the lead and steal away the second set as they fell 25-21. The third set was déjà vu for the Lady Blues who again found themselves tied with UNK at 21. And for the second time the Blues were not able to pull through losing 25-23. Washburn dropped the fourth set for their first loss on the season.

“In this case we didn’t swing it well,” said Herron. “We did those two things [pass and serve], but man did we make a lot of hitting errors.”

Washburn did a phenomenal job in the first set, holding the Lopers to .020 hitting percentage and just .189 for the whole match. But a poor fourth set that resulted in the Blues hitting .000 cost WU tremendously.

“The bottom line is that if you play small in a big game, that reflects on you as an athlete,” said Herron. “You can’t play small in big games.”

Washburn’s .115 hitting percentage and 28 team errors left room for error and ultimately cost Washburn a chance at handing UNK their first lost of the season. Standout seniors Hilary Hughes and Jessica Fey both struggled as Hughes finished the match with an abysmal .020 hitting percentage and Fey ended with a not-to-good .040. Three Washburn players finished below .050, a staggering number.

“We out blocked them, we out dug them, we just didn’t hit well,” said Herron. “It’s a fine line when playing the No. 1 team in the country. Things have to go your way.”

Both teams came off of sloppy performances the night before. For the first time this season UNK was forced into a fifth set before defeating a pesky Emporia State University. Washburn played a much more improved Fort Hays State University Tiger team looking to catch the Lady Blues looking ahead. The Blues managed to escape the trap game with a 3-0 win, but the game was not pretty in the eyes of their head coach.

“We just kind of played well enough to win the first two games. There wasn’t any umpf,” said Herron. “In game three yikes. We were down 20-10 and down 24-17.”

Kopp was her consistent self, posting 11 kills and 11 digs. Fey had a much better performance against the Tigers with 12 kills on .304. It was an ugly performance for the Lady Blues, but enough to get the win.

“To win at 24-17…it just doesn’t happen. I don’t know if we beat them or if they lost,” said Herron. “I didn’t feel like that we gave our best effort. We were looking ahead to the next night. They were anxious to play to Kearney.”

Now the Lady Blues must respond after losing for the first time this season. Washburn returns home Oct. 5-6 as they host the Lady Blues Fall Classic. The 10-team event will have some familiar faces in teams like MIAA foes Emporia State and Missouri Western State. With a straight face Herron turned down the idea of another let `down.

“It’s not the same, because on Friday, kids are in class,” said Herron. “There’s not going to be the gigantic crowds that we’ve had.”

The No.4 Washburn Lady Blues (14-1, 5-1 MIAA) will look to avenge their loss and keep a 42 home match streak going against Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Southeastern Oklahoma State University Friday.

“We hope kids can pop in if they don’t have a class,” said Herron. “We certainly appreciate all the people that have attended our matches.”

The Lady Blues will round out the Fall Classic against Harding University and Southern Nazarene University on Saturday. Washburn will regroup for another run at the Lopers later this season.

“We look to playing them [Kearney] again,” said Herron.