Northwest volleyball had an action-packed schedule Oct. 15, 18 and 19 as the Bearcats contended with Central Missouri, Emporia State and Washburn.
Northwest finished its five-game home stretch Oct. 15 against then-No. 9 ranked Central Missouri. The Bearcats faced the Jennies earlier in the season and won in a 3-1 victory. This time around, however, Central Missouri was more prepared.
The Jennies played a complete game against the ’Cats in Bearcat Arena. They were able to find an offensive rhythm by hitting an average of .268% the entire match. Their serving was causing fits for the Bearcat defense as they were able to side out at or over 55% in each set, compared to Northwest, which never got over 51% the entire match.
Coach Amy Woerth credited Central Missouri for playing a competitive match but believed the Bearcats loss was due in large part to their energy.
“We just didn’t have very good energy. When you take on a top 25 team, you have to have your stuff together,” Woerth said. “We didn’t have functioning relationships or positive energy. Our players have to understand that a second time you play someone, they have a lot of film on you and are going to take their best shot at you. I think it was more about us not being there mentally.”
Northwest lost by set scores of 25-20, 25-14 and 25-18. The lack of energy was present when the Bearcats were tied 19-19 in the first set, only to drop 6 of the next 7 points. The Jennies then took the momentum into the second set using a 15-4 run after being tied 3-3 to start. This marks Central Missouri’s 100th win against the Bearcats, making the all-time record 100-12-1.
Northwest traveled three hours Oct. 18 to Emporia, Kansas, to take on Emporia State. Emporia State is not considered an MIAA powerhouse (1-10 MIAA, 5-14 overall) but fought with all of its might to try to secure its second conference win.
Emporia State started the first two sets with a fast-paced offensive attack. The Hornets sided out at 68% in the first set while hitting .188%. In the second set, they were nearly perfect, siding out at 85% and hitting .375%. Northwest had trouble getting the Hornets out of their system, which allowed the Hornets to pass efficiently and take an early two-set lead.
Northwest needed to find a way to limit Emporia’s state success at siding out if the Bearcats wanted a chance to make the road trip home with a win. Woerth implemented a game plan of serving it short to create confusion for the Hornet offense. While it tallied 15 serving errors for Northwest, the ’Cats were able to cut Emporia State’s siding percentage to less than 56% throughout what would be the remaining three sets.
After dropping the first two sets, Northwest won three straight to win the match by set scores of 25-27, 19-25, 25-20, 25-17 and 15-10. This was the first time since Sept. 3, 2016, that Northwest rallied from a two-set deficit to win a match. The win improved the team’s record to 4-1 on the year when games head into a fifth set.
The game was a showing for the junior class. Outside hitter Hallie Sidney registered a double-double with 22 kills and 12 digs while middle blocker Morgan Lewis registered 15 kills and six blocks. Setter Maddy Ahrens found herself posting a double-double as well with 54 assists and 13 digs. Woerth praised the juniors for their efforts.
“They produced,” Woerth said. “Offensively, we needed good decisions when it came to choices for the offense. Morgan has been very consistent at doing what she’s good at. She was there and present, and we were able to get her established and run our offense out of that.”
“They simply did their jobs,” Woerth added.
While energy was lacking in their previous game against Central Missouri, Woerth said they found the right mindset at the right time in this game.
“I had to imply the need for focus when we were down 0-2, but I gave them the belief that they could do it,” Woerth said. “They started turning to each other and believing in themselves. When you have the right energy, regardless of where you are, you can do anything. We knew we had them in the fifth before we walked in because they were completely decimated with their body language and their thought of how they would take this away from us.”
To finish the week, the Bearcats took on then No. 4 Washburn in Topeka, Kansas, Oct. 19. Northwest was looking to upset the Ichabods but fell in five sets by scores of 25-20, 30-32, 25-18, 23-25 and 15-7.
Washburn has been known to have a sound defense year after year, and this game proved to be no different. Northwest was limited to hitting .167% on the match. Woerth complimented Washburn’s defensive ability.
“They’re good at understanding our patterns and what our hitters are good at,” Woerth said. “It takes things away from our strengths. Our players need to see what are they giving us and what can I take away from them. Washburn neutralized Hallie from her production and what she did.”
Northwest was able to take the No. 4 team to five sets by trying a new serving strategy. Like the Emporia State game, Northwest attacked Washburn by serving it short. It was able to create confusion and break Washburn’s fast-paced offense up.
Sidney had a match-high 18 kills and added four blocks. Sophomore middle hitter Rachel Sturdevant tacked on a double-double with 15 kills and 11 digs. Sophomore middle hitter Bethany Elkins contributed with a team-best seven blocks while Ahrens added 47 assists and three service aces.
Woerth saw the ability to hang with a team like Washburn as a positive to take away.
“To be able to say we had great resilience to our team who is still relatively inexperienced with playing together throughout years and years is a huge positive,” Woerth said. “That’s what we’re really trying to focus on is what we can do versus what we cant, and what we can be positive with taking things away and continuing to build the team.”
Northwest will enjoy their stay in Maryville Oct. 25-26. The Bearcats will host Missouri Southern, who they defeated earlier in the year 3-0 on Oct. 18. Northwest will then face Pittsburg State, who they beat 3-1 earlier in the season on Oct. 19. Woerth is excited about the upcoming matchups.
“The whole entire goal is to play together and play our best with the right energy. I thought we did a fabulous job the last time we played these teams. It’ll be a different type of challenge as they’ve grown and we’ve grown, but we just look forward to being at home,” Woerth said. “Being at home for Homecoming I think creates a cool atmosphere.”