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FHSU volleyball takes two from McPherson

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

It took a lot longer than planned, but the Fort Hays State University volleyball team is back to doing what it did a lot of last season -- win.

"It's awesome. We are seeing some things we know we were missing out on for the first nine games," senior middle hitter Jenna Ulrich said. "We had some up and down moments where we let them get a couple of point runs, but we brought it together, relaxed and said, 'Hey, just play the game.'"

It took one evening of volleyball to triple the Tigers' win total on the season. FHSU entered Monday's doubleheader against NAIA McPherson College with a 1-9 record, and swept the Bulldogs in both of its matches at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Set scores were 25-15, 25-17, 25-23 for the first match, and 25-16, 25-11, 25-14 for the second match.

"It's always nice when you can pick up any wins, regardless of who it's against," FHSU coach Kurt Kohler said. "We are starting to get on a little roll and it's nice to see our kids playing with more confidence than we had played with last week. Obviously we need to maintain that and get rid of a lot of the inconsistent play we have. If we can start playing consistent we are going to start to really do some good things."

McPherson College (10-11), a NAIA member, presented FHSU (3-9) with a unique opportunity on Monday.

The first match was effectively a junior varsity game, as McPherson College fields an actual JV team.

This allowed Kohler to play many of his underclassmen for an entire match, a rare opportunity for players that don't see much court time during the regular season.

Juniors Lacie Shoemaker and Kylee Powell found the court for the first time this season, and players like sophomore Tara Hoekman and freshman Rachel Szczepanski saw extended playing time.

For the younger players to go out and get a sweep in the first match against McPherson College was a big deal for both coach and players.

"It was really nice. I think, for the first time playing out there as a team in an actual game, we were really efficient," Szczepanski said. "Still a little bit of stuff to work on, but overall I think we did pretty well for being all freshmen, basically, out on the court."

Szczepanski and fellow freshman Haley Corkill each finished with eight kills to lead FHSU in the first match. The Tigers also held McPherson to a .042 attack percentage.

"It's definitely a new kind of feeling," Szczepanski added. "It's really nice to know that we can do that and we have this talent coming up."

The usual starters came in for match two, and had little trouble putting away the outmanned Bulldogs. None of the sets were close, and FHSU had built a 23-9 lead in both the second and third sets.

FHSU had five hitters at or above the .333 mark, with Ulrich's 10 kills leading the way. Senior Madison Schwartz and junior Sara Hewson each added eight kills, also bringing in seven and 15 digs, respectively.

"Our hitters did a great job," Kohler said about the second match.

"I think it was our best hitting performance of the year as far as hitting percentage goes. In that third set we really came in and got some blocks early on to maintain that lead."

The winning streak comes at a good time for FHSU, which is 1-4 in the MIAA, as the Tigers have two important conference games this week, the beginning of an eight-game road swing.

On Friday, FHSU will visit Washburn (13-3, 3-0 MIAA) and on Saturday will be at Emporia State (7-5, 1-3 MIAA).

Both contests are crucial for the team if it wants to climb out of the MIAA cellar. But with everything finally starting to click, the Tigers feel they finally have the confidence to face that upward battle.

"There is a lot more confidence because of the wins; a lot more confidence in individual's abilities," Ulrich said. "But probably the most beneficial and helpful thing is just our confidence as a team. Volleyball is such a team sport and when you play as a team, that's when you win games.

"That's what we are starting to do."