October 12, 2013

Cunningham's career-high kills push Bears past Eagles

Collin Boyles

GREELEY -- The Northern Colorado volleyball team cruised to the first two set wins followed by two close games in a 3-1 win Saturday against Eastern Washington. Sophomore Kendra Cunningham helped set the tempo for the Bears as the team finished the night with the 25-16, 25-11, 24-26, 25-20 win.

"I think this was a long time coming," assistant coach Jenny Glenn said. "We've been growing each match even though the results haven't shown it. This team has grown a lot in the last couple weeks and we've changed how we've practiced, we are growing, we played maybe the wrong teams at the wrong time to get the result from that but this team is a much better team than we were three weeks ago so I think it is a process and we finally got the outcome on our side."

Two opening set wins by the Bears helped the team earn its first win in the last seven games. UNC won nine straight and 15 of the first 18 points to take a commanding lead in the first set. Ashley Guthrie served over the nine point streak with one ace and also earned four assists. The Bears would go on to win the set, 25-16.

The second set opened much closer than the previous as UNC pushed EWU to a 10-6 lead. Cunningham stayed as the server for the next eight points for the Bears to take a 18-6 lead and giving the team enough momentum to take the set, 25-11. After the two dominating sets, the Eagles came back to make the game more interesting.

"They did come back serving a little more aggressive [in the third set]," Glenn said. "In volleyball the more aggressive a team serves at you, the more it pushes the passers back and it makes us passive. We just had to kind of stop and reset and remember that we need to be aggressive in the passing lanes and call the ball early and not allow that team to push us back."

After 12 back-and-forth points scored, the Eagles finally gained some momentum to take the third set. EWU sat at the service line with a 23-20 advantage but allowed the Bears to come back and make the set 24-24. An Eagles kill and a setting error by the Bears gave the visiting team the set win to bring the match closer at 2-1.

"I probably said it a thousand times tonight, 'Play in the moment. Play in the moment,'" Glenn said. "It just took constant reminders because our trend has been to worry about the past or think about the future so I think constantly reminding them of those things, giving them tactical things to focus on so we all are in that present moment and just reminding us that we need to stay aggressive and go after the play."

Both teams took turns with short runs throughout the fourth set. The final run gave the Bears the win for the night. After earning a kill point to make the set 23-20, sophomore Megan Garcia recorded a service ace and senior Alyssa Wilson won the game with her seventh kill of the night.

Cunningham set a new career-high with 21 kills and also added 15 digs. Senior Meredith Johnson led the way in digs with 25 while freshman Audrey Landry added 15. Freshman Guthrie assisted on 43 points. On the night the Bears recorded a .278 hitting percentage compared to the Eagles' .077. The Bears also totaled 10 blocks and five service aces.

Northern Colorado continues Big Sky play next week while traveling to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The team will be preparing this week without head coach Lyndsey Oates.

"We just continue to move forward," Glenn said. "We hit practice again, we know the things we need to continue to work on, how we continue to progress as a team give ourselves more confidence in the skills that we're learning every day and adjustments that we can make and again just taking each day one day at a time and just having fun with volleyball, letting the burdens come off us a little bit."