Sophomores Bethany Elkins and Rachel Sturdevant block the ball against Pittsburg State Oct. 26 in Bearcat Arena. The Bearcats won three sets against Pittsburg State and will play against Newman Nov. 8 in Witchita, Kansas.

The weekend of Nov. 1-2 provided a challenge for Northwest volleyball as it traveled to Kearney, Nebraska, to take on the No. 2 Nebraska-Kearney Lopers and to Hays, Kansas, to face the Fort Hays State Tigers.

In the initial matchup of the season Oct. 5, Nebraska-Kearney took a trip to Maryville, where the Lopers won in 4 sets. The outcome of the most recent meeting was no different, as the No. 14 Bearcats lost in four sets by scores of 25-16, 25-14, 21-25 and 25-15.

It was a dismal offensive performance for the Bearcats, as they were limited to hitting .115 against the Lopers. Besides the third set, the Bearcats never tallied more than 16 points against the Lopers.

Coach Amy Woerth praised the Lopers’ defense and the ability for Nebraska-Kearney to limit the Bearcats getting their star players involved.

“I thought they took care of our go-to players when it came down to us needing them in situations,” Woerth said, “They put pressure in areas that were hard for us to function within. They’re one of the best defensive teams frontcourt and backcourt.”

Along with struggling to capture a hitting rhythm, the Bearcats also had troubles with their blocking and defensive schemes. Nebraska-Kearney hit .243 on the match, including .391 in the first set and .414 in the second. The Lopers sided out at 61%, while the Bearcats fell well below their average at 44%.

While Woerth believes her team made excellent plays, the Lopers responded better.

“They can take the best offenses and neutralize them,” Woerth said. “We had some really good swings, and they made some really good digs, or we’d have a one-on-one when it comes to a blocker, and they would block us. They made plays that ultimately gave us some troubles.”

The most impressive performance from the ’Cats came in the third set. Northwest had three fewer errors than the Lopers and two more kills. The Bearcats held Nebraska-Kearney to .074 hitting. Woerth saw the team beginning to wear down the Lopers in the third set.

“The longer that you play a team, the more you want to break them down,” Woerth said. “By the time we got to the third set, we broke them down a little bit, and they made some errors that helped us. Our offense started to get going as well.”

The Bearcats had to quickly brush off the loss at Nebraska-Kearney, as they battled against Fort Hays State Nov. 2. While Fort Hays State is on an 11-game losing streak, they went punch for punch with Northwest.

Northwest won the first set behind a stand-out performance from freshman middle hitter Rachel Sturdevant. She had four kills on seven swings and led the way to a .206 hitting average in the set. However, Fort Hays regained their confidence and took a 2-1 set lead by hitting .279 in the second and .429 in the third.

Worth said Fort Hays State gained its confidence from having nothing to lose.

“It’s nothing that we’re new to, but every time we go play someone, we’re the No. 14 team in the country, and teams don’t have anything to lose against us,” Woerth said. “They were playing really free and playing without a lot of worries and got their offense where it needed to be. They were coming at us with everything they had.”

Even though the Tigers were hitting at a high level and making Northwest play out of their normal offense, they couldn’t capitalize in the fifth set. Northwest won by set scores of 25-19, 21-25, 18-25, 25-23 and 15-13.

Northwest is now 6-2 in five-set matches. Senior outside hitter Genevieve Cruz was impressed with the trust the team had with each other going into the fifth set.

“What impressed me the most was how much we relied on each other and how much we believed in each other,” Cruz said. “We believed that no matter what, we’re going to get this done and we’re going to come out with a win as a team.”

With the win against Fort Hays, Northwest moves to 18-6 overall and 11-5 in MIAA play. The Bearcats are ranked No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll and fourth in the MIAA. The win also secured their spot in the 2019 MIAA Conference Tournament.

Cruz said she is ecstatic about her and the team’s ability to compete in the MIAA tournament come the end of November

“To me, it’s really special, especially since it’s my senior year,” Cruz said. “To know we’re going to have that chance to go back and take care of business in the first round and have some fun.”

Woerth knows the Bearcats have not gotten past the first round of the tournament since making it the past four seasons. She’s looking to get her team out of this slump.

“It’s based on what we do in the postseason conference tournament. Our region is so hard that we know we need to get deep into that tournament, and if not win it, to get the automatic qualifier because bids are so hard to come by,” Woerth said. “For us to get in allows us to reach our goals by winning that first round then the whole tournament.”

Northwest travels to Wichita, Kansas, to face a struggling Newman team (1-25) Nov 8. The ’Cats beat Newman in three straight sets in their first meeting. The Bearcats then face Central Oklahoma (17-10) Nov. 9 in Edmond, Oklahoma. Central Oklahoma swept the Bearcats in their earlier meeting.

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