The University of Alaska Anchorage women's volleyball team returned to open its home conference season at the UAA Sports Center Sept. 28 to find that the tough lessons they learned on the road mean nothing if they don't come to play every night regardless of venue.
Passing errors, service-reception errors and miscommunications bogged the team down in its 1-2 road trip two weeks ago, and against Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University Friday and Saturday the same could be seen.
Playing against the SPU Falcons Friday night, the women came out slow, losing the first game 30-24. They rebounded in the second game behind the strong play of junior co-captain Brianne Halling. The Bakersfield, Calif. native showed no noticeable signs of her right ankle sprain while slamming home five of her 15 kills and stifled two of her three blocks in the Seawolves 30-28 second game win.
The women came out strong in the third game as well, but the strong outside play of Pacific's Cathleen Price and Leah Wiiest, who combined for 43 kills, two blocks and 28 digs in the match, snuffed any hopes of a Seawolves rally.
Wiiest felt that her teammates picked up their energy at the end of the match.
“The whole team came to play tonight, their passes and sets really made my job easier as the match closed out,” she said.
The Falcons won game three 30-28 and outlasted the `Wolves 33-31 in the fourth game to send our ladies to a four game loss in front of 562 screaming fans.
Senior co-captain Janelle Veith continued to spark the Seawolves offense. The Spokane, Wash. native had 43 assists, 12 digs and a well timed eight kills.
Senior transfer Marise Knock, playing despite battling the flu, filled the holes nicely in the Seawolf offense and defense, showing her all-around skill while killing 13 balls, digging out 16 more, dishing six assists and leading the regulars with a .313 attack percentage. Freshman outside hitter Carolyn DeKay pumped in a career-high 12 kills and sophomore middle blocker Starr Burgan had her back with 11 kills of her own.
UAA coach Kim Lauwers thought the girls would come out with more intensity and a sense of urgency coming off their road losses at Western Oregon and Seattle University two weeks ago to open the conference season.
“They slowed the game down on us all night, forcing us to play at their tempo,” she said.
Lauwers also said the women ratcheted up their levels too late, and that the tough loss forces them to pick it up a notch against Western.
“You'd like to rebound after every loss. But in order to do that we can't make the same type of errors we made tonight (Friday) against a team like the Vikings.”
The Vikings came into the Sports Center sporting an 11-3 overall record, tops in the GNAC, after a five game win over the University of Alaska Fairbanks Friday night.
The Seawolves took advantage of the Viking's tiredness early on, winning the first two games 30-26 and 30-17.
But the Vikings adjusted to a Seawolf attack minus Knock, who sat out the match with a strained back and bruises she suffered diving for a dig in the loss to Pacific.
Coach Lauwers wasn't aware that Knock would be sitting out the match, but it didn't seem to affect the Seawolves at the start of the match.
“I didn't hear about Marise until 17 minutes before the match, but Jenny (Mitchell) and Carolyn (DeKay) stepped it up for us,” Lauwers said.
The pivotal third game was a lesson in defensive adjustments. The Vikings rushed an extra defender back to offset the strong hitting of DeKay and Halling and were able to find the holes in the Seawolf defense while their offense found it's rhythm.
Shannon Rowland led the way for Western, registering 14 of her match-high 24 kills in the final three games. The Vikings closed out the Seawolves 30-25, 34-32 and 15-11 before a Saturday night crowd of 458 and sent the Seawolves to their third straight conference loss, dropping their record to 1-4 in conference, 8-6 overall.
The tempo of the fourth game was back-and-forth as the two teams couldn't gain a decisive edge over each other. Neither team led by more than three.
DeKay brought the hammer with six kills in the fourth game, on her way to a team and career-high 14 for the match.
The freshman wasn't happy about the outcome for the women, but took away some positives from the defeat.
“We played hard against the number one team in the conference, so if we can play them hard we should be able to beat everybody now,” she said.
Also picking up the slack was the freshman Mitchell, totaling 12 kills and 19 digs. Halling chipped in her usual double-digit kill effort with 12, and Veith set the tempo with 46 assists to go along with another eight kills and 13 digs.
After the match, Lauwers was quick to point to the fact that the team came out with confidence.
“We came out feeling good, showing some energy,” she said, “but the Vikings adjusted well to our attack and passed better than us all night, so there's still some work to do.”
The Seawolves lost control of the match but still played hard, showing signs of life after a series of matches where their focus and communication acted as a hindrance rather than an attribute.
They now stare at a tough road trip to Saint Martin's, Central Washington and Northwest Nazarene before returning to Alaska with a road game at UAF Oct. 11.
Their next home game is a return match with the Nanooks at the Sports Center Oct. 15.
The Viking's Rachelle Cooper said it best when summing up the Seawolves performance Saturday night, “Their focus floored us in the early going, but when we adjusted in the third game it looked like it sent them into a slower offense.
“They played us tough all night, but we played five games at Fairbanks and knew that this would be a battle too,” Cooper said.