LINCOLN, Neb. - It is early September, but you would have thought the NCAA title was on the line as the Saint Mary's volleyball team battled 11th-ranked Nebraska tooth-and-nail tonight in the 2011 Ameritas Players Challenge.
In front of the 151st-straight capacity crowd of more than 4,000 red-clad fans at NU Coliseum, the Gaels went toe-to-toe with the Huskers but had their three-match win streak ended with an emotional 2-3 (13-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 13-15) loss. Saint Mary's dropped to 4-4 on the season, while Nebraska improved to 5-1.
"I think our team really showed a lot of belief tonight," said Saint Mary's head coach Rob Browning. "We certainly played well at times, but we had other moments when we could have shown more composure. In the end, to play a nip-and-tuck match against a strong program in front of a packed house really helped our team realize that we belong in the same conversation as many of the top teams."
The two teams return to the floor tomorrow with Saint Mary's facing Creighton at 9:30 a.m. (PT). Host Nebraska will play Weber State at noon. Live statistics links are available on SMCGaels.com.
Lauren Corp registered 16 kills in 46 attempts and added 10 digs and three total blocks to lead the Gaels. Natalie Loos added 13 kills, while Samantha Tinsley, while Sarah Reams registered a match-high 24 digs.
Nebraska jumped out early, hitting .333 and taking a decisive 25-13 decision in the first set. The Huskers limited Saint Mary's to a -.036 hitting percentage in the game. The second game was a completely different story for SMC. The Gaels fared a little better offensively, hitting .175 while holding Nebraska to .095.
Despite the Huskers taking game three by a seemingly decisive 25-18 margin, game three featured six ties. In game four, the Gaels raced out to a 10-5 early lead before Nebraska tied the game at 20-20. Corp registered three kills to help Saint Mary's close out the game and force a match-deciding game five.
In game five, Nebraska raced out to a quick 6-0 lead but the Gaels didn't cave. A kill by Loos ended the Huskers' scoring streak and the Gaels went on a 5-2 run to climb to within three points at 8-5. After the two teams battled back-and-forth, a Corp kill made the score 13-12 in favor of the Huskers. After Nebraska went up 14-12, Loos connected on a kill to keep the Gaels' hopes alive.
"I was pleased with the way we played in the fourth set," said Browning. "We had a big lead before they came back and got the crowd behind them. But, we kept playing well and we won the set. Once we got into the fifth set, it was disappointing to give them such a big advantage right off the bat. They jumped out to a 6-0 lead then led 8-2 at the break. We did outscore them by a 11-7 margin to finish, but we didn't play well to start the game and dug ourselves such a big hole."