By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The Missouri Western volleyball team lost the first set by two points, but then rattled off the next three in a row to down Washburn, 3-1, in the MIAA Volleyball tournament quarterfinals at Civic Arena in St. Joseph Thursday.
Each set was decided by five points or less, and the Griffons sealed their third win over the Ichabods this season.
"It's exciting," Missouri Western head coach Jessica Fey said. "They played well and they had a lot of tough moments, some close moments. I think early on, those moments didn't swing our way. But, through some experience and having an experienced lineup, they did a really great job of fighting through pressure."
Washburn (17-11) got off to a 4-1 start in set one, but the Griffs rallied to tie it 4-4, eventually leading 12-9.
The Ichabods rallied back, taking a 16-15 lead, prompting a Griffon timeout.
Western had set point in the first at 24-22, but Washburn reeled off a furious rally and took the first set, 28-26.
"We didn't produce a ton offensively the first set," Fey said. "So, I knew we could do better. I knew there was a lot of room for growth. I know our women just need confidence."
"I'm glad we tied (the match) 1-1 and they could relax a little bit."
The Griffons got off to a 5-2 start in the second and eventually led it 8-4. Washburn found its groove offensively and tied the set at 8-8, but Western answered with a 3-0 run to lead set two, 11-8, drawing an Ichabod timeout.
Washburn again rallied, tying the second set at 14-14 and then leading it, 16-15. The Griffons responded with a 3-0 run to take a 19-17 lead, forcing the Ichabods to spend their second timeout.
A big ace serve by Nessa Johnson late in the set helped fuel Western to a 25-21 win in the second. Russell’s 10th kill of the match clinched the second, tying the match at one set apiece.
Set three saw another clean start for Western, as they jumped out to a 4-1 lead. That lead climbed to 8-4, thanks to a couple more kills from Holly Heldt.
Western’s lead grew to 11-6 in the third, and the Griffons maintained that pace down the stregch. Washburn got within two points a couple of times, but Western went on to take the third set, 25-20.
Western hit .308 in the third set and never trailed in the frame.
"Every time you win a set, it just kind of fuels you to go," Fey said. "There was no pressure on us going into the fourth. We were up 2-1, so that feels good. I think we lacked off a little bit there, but not bad."
The fourth set saw yet another great start by the Griffs. Western raced out to a 4-0 lead, and that lead eventually grew to 14-6.
Washburn, though, showed some more fight in the fourth, going on an 8-0 run and tying the set 14-14. Western spent both of their timeouts during that run, and Washburn kept the pressure on, going up 20-18 in the fourth.
Western took the lead late in the fourth, 24-22, thanks to a 5-0 run. Washburn tied it 24-24, but back-to-back kills by Heldt sealed the deal, and Western took the fourth set, 27-25, to clinch a match victory.
Heldt led the way with 23 kills and 36 digs. Taylor Russell hammered home 18 kills on a .421 hit percentage. Johnson doled out 53 assists to go with 15 digs.
The Griffons had 12 total blocks and outhit the Ichabods .213 - .167.
Missouri Western advances to the MIAA tournament semifinals on Friday, where they'll take on No. 1 seed Central Missouri (22-7) at 7:30 p.m. at Civic.
"They're playing really well right now," Fey said of UCM - a team that's swept MWSU twice in the regular season.
"We have to do a great job blocking, defending. (UCM) is one of the top blocking teams in the conference and nation. We've played them twice. We played them horribly the first time, a little better the second time, but it was never really a game. I hope we can go out there, be fearless and give them a little bit better of a game than we have so far."
The Jennies swept Emporia State in three sets on Thursday. UCM has won 10 straight matches overall and 12 straight against the Griffons.
Other MIAA volleyball tournament scores from Thursday
No. 3 Nebraska-Kearney 3 No. 6 Northwest Missouri State 0 - FINAL
No. 7 Missouri Southern 3 No. 2 Central Oklahoma 1 - FINAL
Kearney and Southern play in the first semifinal on Friday at Civic at 5 p.m.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.