It was the perfect moment.
UAA versus UAF. Senior Night. Final home game of the season. Only one point away from a three-game sweep of the Nanooks.
And the final kill of the night didn’t go to just anyone. It didn’t come on a UAF error. It came from team captain and senior Jenny Mitchell on cross-court slam that got nothing but hardwood and provided an emphatic finish to a UAA rout.
It was last hit for Mitchell ever at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.
The putaway, Mitchell’s ninth of the game, sealed a 30-26, 30-25, 30-24 win over UAF Nov. 6 that moved UAA to 11-13 overall and 5-11 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Meanwhile the Nanooks fell to 11-12 and 8-8 in conference.
And the play that ended it was no accident.
“We we’re all on the bench in our minds saying ‘Set Jenny! Set Jenny!’” head coach Kim Lauwers said. “We knew she would put the ball down. We had a lot of confidence. Our setter Bethan did as well and made a smart play, and it was awesome to end that way.”
It started with the season-high crowd of 575 stomping their feet on wooden benches in anticipation of the knockout of UAA’s conference rivals. The serve came from the UAF side and was bumped by Kalie Davis to setter Bethan Murphy. Murphy made a little flip over her head to Mitchell who used her momentum coming down the right side to whale into the ball.
It was simple and quick. Serve. Bump. Set. Game over.
“Right away I saw the last point and I was like, ‘I want to set Jenny,’” Murphy said. “Of course I want to set the other seniors, but she’s the captain. She’s led us through the whole time even if it is up and down, and I thought she really deserved to have the last whack at it and I knew she would get it done.”
Murphy said she came up with the idea by herself to make sure Mitchell got the last point and didn’t mention it to any of her teammates. But it was on everybody’s mind.
“Mental telepathy obviously,” Lauwers said, laughing.
And the best part was, after the game Mitchell didn’t even know they had her in mind the whole time.
“That is so nice they we’re thinking of me, though,” Mitchell said.
And that hit meant so much more than just one of Mitchell’s 534 career kills. It was redemption for the fact she never got much playing time until this season. It guaranteed the Seawolves have a chance to finish at .500 if they can knock off Western Oregon and Humboldt State Nov. 11 and 12. And it did a lot to help heal some of the wounds from a midseason slump that saw the team lose six in a row and 11 out of 13 games, both marks that the UAA program hasn’t seen in the last seven years.
“We’re not thinking about that, we are thinking about tonight and two more matches,” Lauwers said. “Instead of fearing the worst, we turned around tonight and said, ‘What do we need to do for the next point?’ And we proved to ourselves we can win when we do that.”
The four seniors were the stars of the night, contributing 39 of the 44 kills to go along with the bouquets of flowers and gifts they were showered with in the pregame ceremonies.
Along with Mitchell, Carolyn DeKay led the Seawolves with 11 kills, Katina Ozrelic added 10 and Mindy Lindquist pitched in nine with a blistering .533 hitting percentage. The Nanooks were led by 15 kills from Danielle Hitzeman and 11 from Jessica King. But UAA dominated in the individual digs category with 20 from Rachel Knecht and 19 from Diana Gordon.
Lauwers said it was ultimately the rally-snuffing blocks and kills from the likes of Lindquist and the defense and career-high five service aces from Davis that proved the death knell for the Nanooks.
“I don’t think it was one person through the whole night,” Lauwers said. “Everybody contributed their own moments.”