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FHSU volleyball nets sixth straight win

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Call them the 'Comeback Cats,' because that is exactly what the Fort Hays State University volleyball team did on numerous occasions in a key 3-1 win over visiting Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University on Saturday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The Tigers won 26-24, 25-22, 24-26, 28-26 for their sixth consecutive victory.

"We were giving up some chains of points through this entire match, and that fourth set we fell behind quite a bit," FHSU volleyball coach Kurt Kohler said. "At timeouts we kept talking about having that fire and the kids really got it together there at the end. That was fun to watch, how intense they played to score the last couple of points."

FHSU (12-12, 3-7 MIAA) trailed 16-10 in the fourth set and again at 23-18. But a flurry of kills and a service error on the Bearcats allowed the Tigers to tie the set at 24.

SBU (14-10, 4-7 MIAA) retook the lead at 25-24, but FHSU rallied again and won the set and the match 28-26 after a Bearcat attack error by Jordan Nedbalek.

"I think we tried to stay calm and know in our hearts that we were going to win that game," Tiger junior right side hitter Taylor Mares said. "We struggled a little bit at the beginning but the last 10 points we really fought hard and I think we all knew we were going to win."

Mares led the Tigers with a career-high 22 kills on 44 attempts and hit .386 for the match. Senior middle hitter Jenna Ulrich hit .462 with eight kills, senior libero Makenzie Weinman led the team with 34 digs, and junior setter Libby Ary had 34 assists.

But it was the play of Mares that really stood out, and the Tigers needed every point she provided.

"She did a great job stepping up when we needed her to," Kohler said. "The holes were there for her and she really took advantage. I mean, 44 swings and 22 were kills is pretty impressive."

FHSU led 2-0 in the match. The Tigers trailed 11-7 in the first set before they rallied back to win 26-24, and trailed 17-13 in the second set, an eventual 25-22 win.

The Tigers also rallied in the third set. They trailed 19-15 but would take a lead at 24-23 with match point. But back-to-back kills by SBU and an attack error by Haley Corkill gave the set to the Bearcats.

"I know we made a lot of mental errors and I think we kind of hung our head coming into the fourth," Kohler said. "We haven't played a whole lot of four or five set matches. I don't know if we had a lack of confidence or were not sure of the situation we were going into."

Despite a slow start in the fourth set, the Tigers found a way to rally and win the match. The win keeps FHSU in contention for the MIAA Tournament, which takes the top eight teams. The Tigers currently sit in 11th, but are just one game back of eighth-place Pittsburg State.

The six straight wins is the longest stretch of the season for FHSU. Saturday's win was also the first time the Tigers had won back-to-back conference games this season after defeating Missouri Southern 3-0 on Friday (25-20, 25-15, 25-23).

"It definitely means a lot in the MIAA standings," Mares said of the win. "But I think just confidence wise beating SBU boosted our confidence and now we can get on with the rest of our season."

The Tigers will host Nebraska-Kearney at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Lopers (21-3, 7-2 MIAA) are currently ranked No. 9 in the nation and sit in third in the MIAA.