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Tiger volleyball falls to Hornets

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University volleyball coach Kurt Kohler sat on the bench during Wednesday's home match against Emporia State University and thought how the loss epitomized FHSU's season.

The Tigers won the first set 25-21, but then dropped the next three, 25-17, 26-24, 25-22, en route to a 3-1 loss at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Fort Hays, last in the MIAA in errors per game against conference opponents, committed 37 errors, 16 more than Emporia State. Fort Hays dropped to 13-18, 3-12 MIAA, while ESU moved to 17-10, 8-7 MIAA.

"We come out, we play hard, we end up winning that first game pretty convincingly," coach Kurt Kohler said. "Our kids just really played great and then just turned around in the second game and have very little to give. Just a ton of hitting errors."

The Tigers, already eliminated from the conference tournament, has Senior Night at 5 p.m. Friday against Oklahoma Panhandle State University and then the season finale at University of Central Missouri on Saturday.

"This whole season has been kind of really disappointing," senior middle hitter Jenna Ulrich said. "We just know that we are so much better, and we are just not performing."

This weekend marks the end for Ulrich, senior libero Makenzie Weinman and senior outside hitter Madison Schwartz, a trio who significantly played at least three years and earned at least one all-conference honor. Ulrich, the conference leader in blocks per set, recorded four assisted blocks.

Ulrich's first block broke the Tiger mark of 431 in the NCAA record held by Jennifer Brandes, who was recently inducted into the Tiger Hall of Fame. Ulrich has 435 for her career. She collected just four as a freshman before emerging the next three years.

"Means more than I can express," Ulrich said, a Lucas-Luray graduate, said. "I came into this program from a small school. Not really up to speed. ... To set a career high basically within three years, that was one of my goals. Definitely worked really hard to get myself in that position. Obviously, didn't do it by myself. Most of my blocks are assisted."

Plus, juniors Sam Ledy and Camille Hubert will end their careers this weekend. Ledy and Hubert have both spent four years in college, but Hubert graduates next May and Ledy goes into the time-intensive nursing program.

Hubert started in place of Schwartz, who missed the match with discipline issues. Hubert had just 30 kills and a .015 hitting percentage entering the match, but finished with a match-high 13 kills and hit .136. It marked her most kills since Sept. 9, 2011. Carly Spicer paced Emporia State with 12 kills.

"Going out with a bang is what makes it fun," Hubert said. "We played and left it all out there and that's all you can do. It was a lot of fun tonight, win or lose. I will cherish these memories forever."

After the first set, Fort Hays was tied 15 all in the second set, but Emporia went on an 10-2 run to close the set. Fort Hays had six attack errors in the run, five more than the Hornets. In the 12-team MIAA, Fort Hays stands fourth in digs per game, fourth in blocks and seventh in kills, but last in errors at 7.1 per set.

In the third set, FHSU held a 23-21 lead before Emporia scored three three straight points.

"We come back out, we start playing hard, we start pressing a little bit too much, trying to win the game instead of just trying to win the next point," Kohler said. "It's tough to overcome that. If we would just play relaxed like we do when we first step onto the court to start with, we would be fine. But it's just a lot of mental errors. It just takes a lot of maturity to develop mental toughness."

Fort Hays finished with three attack errors for the Hornets' last four points. The Tigers led 22-21 in the fourth set, but ESU finished with four straight points.

"We bang it out of bounds or into the net," Kohler said. "It's just those silly things, those become mental errors, and it's hard to train it in practice because kids are relaxed in practice and they don't make those types of errors. A lot of it is how tough is each kid mentally? How much can they handle?"