Lichtenberg shines, but Bearcats' blocks too much in volleyball opener
Northern Colorado came up short on the block, though. The Bearcats had 13 blocks to the Bears' four, and that proved pivotal in a 3-1 (17-25, 25-23, 23-25, 16-25) loss that leaves Northern Colorado a little wounded headed into its Invitational doubleheader tomorrow afternoon against the host Aztecs and Cal State Northridge.
Cincinnati finished second in the Big East last season and is the league's unanimous choice this year to finish atop the conference race.
All things considered, Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson likes the resolve her team showed in the defeat -- game two went the Bears way, and game three easily could have, too -- but she knows her program is at the point where moral victories don't taste as good as they once did.
Northern Colorado is now 2-4 in season-openers under Benson, winning their last two "first games" before Friday night.
"It was a tough match, but a really good match for us to open the season," Benson said. "I really liked some of the things that we did against a very good Cincinnati team. We saw glimpses of greatness, we just couldn't sustain it. That was really the story of the match for us."
If that was the top story, Lichtenberg's sensational play in her first game of her final UNC season was right behind. Benson said throughout Northern Colorado's preseason camp that her senior from Bettendorf, Iowa, was going to need to head up a revamped Bear front row if Northern Colorado was to author a similar season this year as it did in 2009, when the Bears won the Big Sky Conference Championship and qualified for their first NCAA Division I tournament.
The early returns on that stated necessity are good. Lichtenberg's 14 kills tied with Arnold for the match high, and her .458 hitting percentage was the highest of any player on the floor. She also added two blocks and a dig.
"We had some great individual performances," Benson said. "Ashley Lichtenberg was almost unstoppable, and I thought our left side played really well, with Julie and Bre (Williams). We just couldn't sustain the right level of play to compete with a great Cincinnati team. We learned some things, and we'll have another opportunity tomorrow, but we can't let many of these opportunities slip by."