September 22, 2013

Bears fall in competitive four-set match to Texas A&M

By PARKER COTTON

UNCBears.com

GREELEY – Home at last, the Northern Colorado volleyball team put a scare into Texas A&M Sunday but was unable to salvage a victory.

After three weekends of road matches, and in their third match in as many nights, the Bears (5-7) took the first set from the Aggies (8-3) 25-21.

"I think it showed that we were excited to be back home in our game one start with the energy we had and the defense we were playing," head coach Lyndsey Oates said. "The unfortunate part is that we couldn't sustain that level of defense, and I think that was the key to the match."

The second and third sets were both decided by 25-23 margins in the Aggies' favor, but they were very competitive to the point that Texas A&M was dealt two yellow cards in the third set. Texas A&M put the match away by hitting .324 in the fourth set and building its lead to as many as six points, the largest of any team the entire match. Texas A&M won the final set 25-20 and had four players with 10 or more kills in the match. Aggies senior setter Allie Sawatzky finished the match with 10 kills, 43 assists and 10 digs.

"We were able to tie it up at 23 in games two and three, but we couldn't quite get over the hump," Oates said. "And that happens a lot when you put so much energy into coming back that then you make a dumb error, which is what happened in game two with a communication error. So we played from behind the rest of the match after game one."

Just one night removed from setting a career-high 15 kills against Montana State, junior middle blocker Brianna Strong totaled 19 against the Aggies and a .400 hitting percentage. She also had four block assists and two solo blocks.

"That's outstanding. This is the Bri that we expected for her junior year," Oates said. "At times, she's still learning that new role; last season she was our fourth or fifth hitter in our offense, and she's our go-to hitter this season in our offense. Teams are going to key on her, and Texas A&M did that, and she was still able to score. That's the sign of a great player.

Sophomore outside hitter Kendra Cunningham and junior middle blocker Andrea Spaustat had 13 and 10 kills, respectively, and both had 10 digs. Alyssa Wilson was fourth on the team with seven.

Despite the offensive production, Oates said the team was streaky elsewhere.

"Our serving wasn't where we needed it to be," she said. "We still had zero aces and that was exactly what happened at Montana is 10 errors, zero aces. We were lower error tonight, but we got to get some easy points from the service line."

Merideth Johnson led the team with 18 digs and Meagan Garcia was second with 11. Ashley Guthrie followed up her career-high 48 assists against Montana State with 47 against the Aggies.

Now that non-conference season is over, the Bears set their sights solely on Big Sky Conference play and defending their 2012 championship. Northern Colorado's first conference home match comes Thursday against Idaho State, the team the Bears defeated in last season's championship match.

"I think we're to play conference and really have that goal of a Big Sky championship dangling in front of us now, and what better way than Idaho State on our home court," Oates said. "The last time we played Idaho State on our home court, there are good memories of a Big Sky Championship, so what we need to take into the match is that kind of energy and attack the match the same way we did last November."

The Bears will face the Bengals at 7 p.m. Thursday and Weber State at 7 p.m. Saturday.