The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team needed every ounce of energy they had to earn a tough four-game win over a much improved Eastern Wyoming College team Wednesday night at Cougar Palace.
The Cougars, who became the No. 1 team in the nation earlier Wednesday, captured the 25-19, 17-25, 25-21, 27-25 over the Lancers. It was only the Lancers second loss of the season, falling to 8-2 while the Cougars improved to 9-2.
Both teams left Cougar Palace winners in one of the most intense games between the Highway 26 rivals in a number of years. And, both teams fought back and forth like it was a national championship match.
“They are very competitive and they gave us all we could handle,” WNCC coach Binny Canales said. “They are a good team. Julie Sherbeyn has done a great job with them over the last three years and their level has improved every year. They are banging at the door. They really are playing well. They are competing, serving tough, passing, staying in system, their hitters are aggressive, they had no fear, and my hats off to coach Sherbeyn.”
Canales said he was proud of how his team fought to stay in the match as they trailed or led by one or two in both the third and fourth games only to come out on top.
“I am impressed of them coming back,” he said. “We need to fix other things to continue to improve.”
EWC coach Julie Sherbeyn can see the writing on the wall that her team is climbing the ladder in Region IX.
“Our team is determined to move our program to the next level, and their play tonight was definite proof we are going in the right direction,” she said. “We started slow in the first, but were able to gain momentum that carried us into game two, and were able to capitalize on some WNCC errors for a decisive victory. We had the lead through most of games 3 & 4, but we fell short with our own errors in the last five points.”
The big difference for the Lancers was the team’s defense, where they were returning balls from outside the lines to keep the ball in play. Sherbeyn said they didn’t do that in the first game, but picked it up in the rest of the match.
“I think the defense did pretty well. That is what we struggled with in the first game, we were standing and spectating,” she said. “If we can keep our feet moving and move to the ball and keep a lot of stuff in play, you can frustrate the other team on the other side of the net. You just have to be patient enough to have the other team have an opportunity to make errors.”
The first game was close for a while, but the Cougars slowly started to build the lead, leading by nine, 23-14 on a Brooke Kaawa kill before winning 25-19.
The second game was all EWC as the Lancers came out with a different spark, bolting to a 5-1 lead. WNCC sliced the lead to 8-7 on kills from Kaawa and Kaylee Spreier, but Helena Khouri had three straight points to push the lead to 13-8. EWC extended the lead to 22-14 on a Lauren Hastings kill and won the game 25-17.
EWC started the third game strong, leading 7-5 on a Carmen Carvajal kill. WNCC bolted back, scoring 11 of the next 14 points to lead 16-10 on four service points from Lara Picht. Khouri brought EWC back to 16-14, but a Spreier ace serve helped WNCC lead 19-14. The Lancers did cut the lead to 23-21 on a Shelby Welsh kill, but a kill by Picht and a service point from Bia Berta gave WNCC the 25-21 win.
The fourth set looked as if EWC was going to send the match to a fifth set, jumping out to a 6-1 lead and later 9-4 on a Khouri kill.
The momentum changed when Kimball’s Danika Daum came in to set and the energy level changed as WNCC climbed back to within one at 12-11. EWC went back in frong 17-12 on three Kylee Tresch points. A Spreier kill and then three Spreier service points put the Cougars within one, 17-16.
EWC led 20-18 with Barbara Briceno at the service line. Briceno gave WNCC the lead at 22-21 and from there it was back and forth. The Lancers led 25-24 and had set point. After a WNCC timeout, Briceno had a kill to tie the game. Spreier then served the final two points for the win.
Daum, who had 13 set assists in the fourth game, said the team didn’t play its best, but got the job done.
“We definitely didn’t play to our highest ability,” the Kimball freshman said. “The first set we played pretty tough. Then we dropped down to a different level, but we played good enough to pull it out. I know we can do better.
Daum actually said it was a fun game to play and when she was inserted into the game, she knew what she had to do.
“There was pressure, but I have been practicing a lot with coach and I knew what I had to do,” she said. “I knew I could play this position and knew I could do it.”
Daum added that moving up to number one didn’t affect their play because they now know they have to perform on the court.
“I wouldn’t say it really affected us,” she said. “We looked at it and said we have to prove ourselves and that it was handed to us. We worked to get to number one and we have to continue to work to keep the number one spot.”
The Lancers were led in the match from Khouri with 10 points, eight kills, 20 digs, and three blocks. Carvajal chipped in 14 kills and 18 digs, while Sophia Arensdorf had 10 kills.
Also for EWC, Lauren Hastings had eight points and three blocks; Alex Simmerman had 21 assists; Kylee Tresch had 11 assists; Madison Powell had three blocks; and Brooklyn Perez had 16 digs.
WNCC was led by Picht with 13 kills, two aces, and 10 digs. Briceno finished with 10 kills, three blocks, 12 digs, and an ace.
Also for the Cougars, Spreier had five kills, two blocks, two digs, and three aces; Kaawa had 17 digs, six kills, and two blocks; Joise Maldonado had three kills and four digs; Bia Berta had 25 set assists and eight digs; Genesis Benitez-Fontanez had nine digs; Kirstee Trees had seven digs; and Daum had 13 set assists and a dig.
WNCC will be back in action Friday and Saturday at the Pizza Hut Invite in Sterling, Colorado, while EWC will have a week off before co-hosting the Wyo-Braska Classic Sept. 16-17 with WNCC.