Volleyball finds another weapon in Saturday split
WACO, Texas -- Every time she turns around these days, Northern Colorado Volleyball coach Lyndsey Benson sees another one of her young players step up and add to her ever-growing arsenal.
Today, during the second and final day of the Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic, it was redshirt-freshman Bri Strong's turn to grab the spotlight in the Bears' 3-0 sweep against McNeese State and 3-2 defeat to host Baylor.
Strong (Mount Vernon, Iowa) totaled three kills against just one error and also got a block in Northern Colorado's 26-24, 25-22, 25-19 win against the Cowboys.
Then, in the nightcap against Baylor, Strong the best match of her first true collegiate season with seven kills on .462 hitting, to go along with five blocks in the Bears' 20-25, 25-22, 25-18, 18-25, 15-9 defeat.
And, while Benson was looking one way at Strong's performance Saturday, Merideth Johnson (little used before this year) tugged Benson's neck in the other direction by providing against some stellar defense off the bench and authoring more than a few dynamic serving runs, including a run of five straight points to close out set three and put Northern Colorado ahead 2-1.
"(Bri Strong) came off the bench and did an excellent job, so I like our depth there in that position again out of the middle," Benson said. "And Merideth came in and did a good job defensively for us and went on a couple serving runs, which was key."
Spaustat (Omaha, Neb.) was the Bears' best player in a 3-2 home loss to Davis last Saturday, while Haddock proved unstoppable alongside start Kelley Arnold on Tuesday in a 3-1 win against the Falcons at the Air Force Academy.
"I like that we can pull kids off the bench and have them make a positive contribution," Benson said, "because we're going to need that throughout the season, especially once we get into conference play."
Sophomore Alyssa Wilson had the best match of her collegiate career against Baylor, slamming down a match- and career-high 15 kills on .333 hitting. She also added five of Northern Colorado's season-most 82 digs.
Star junior Kelley Arnold (.135), Spaustat (.214) and senior Breanna Williams (.049) joined Wilson in double-figure kills with 10 apiece.
"Alyssa Wilson was really big for us tonight," Benson said. "She was aggressive and played with reckless abandon, and that's what we needed against a team like Baylor tonight. Her aggressiveness set the tone for our team throughout the match, which was great."
The Bears came into Saturday night riding a season-high nine-set winning streak (Air Force, Texas-Pan American and McNeese State on Saturday morning), but they saw that end in the first set against Baylor after hitting just .163 and never leading in the set.
Benson's squad responded in the next two sets and led 2-1 in front of 1,127 Baylor fans likely still buzzing from Baylor's epic football win Friday night against nationally-ranked TCU. Northern Colorado just couldn't quite keep up with the high-level Big 12 program.
Baylor, after winning set four 25-18, led 8-6 at the court change in set five and finished off the match on a 7-3 run.
The end result was more a case of Baylor winning, though, than Northern Colorado losing. And that has Benson feeling much better about her team than she did after the season's first week.
"That was the best level (of play) we've had so far this year," she said. "So, if that's what we have to build on, I'm very pleased. We're never happy with a loss, but I thought that was a good building block for the rest of the season. The level of play we were at tonight is going to be very good come conference time."
2011 Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic