Central Missouri volleyball swept St. Cloud State 25-13, 25-23, 25-20 to win in the first round of the NCAA Division II Central Region Tournament on Thursday, Nov. 30, at the Gangelhoff Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The No. 4 seeded Jennies tallied 12 service aces, including a team-high five from redshirt sophomore Grace Winkelmann. UCM had 73 serves in total.
“Serving has been something we’ve worked on a lot, especially this second half of the season,” Central Missouri head coach Caitlin Peterson said. “It’s kind of a mind game of serve aggressively enough to get them out of system, but still in bounds. We definitely found a godo balance tonight of being aggressive enough, but not missing a lot.”
Central Missouri (25-7) jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the first set, including three kills from redshirt senior outside hitter Kersti Nix and all five of Winkelmann’s service aces.
“We kind of started it off with those aces there in the first set,” Peterson said. “It kind of took them out of the game right away and made them uncomfortable, which helped all the areas of our game.”
Fifth-seeded St. Cloud State (22-9) kept with the Jennies in both the second set, taking a 4-1 advantage.
UCM did not control the lead until the later half of the set, going up 18-17 and 19-18 through atack errors.
“I think being in tough games leading up to this point has really helped,” Peterson said. “Being in the MIAA Championship match and having Kearney at home at the end of the season for the regular season championship has given them some experience in really important games where you’re playing a great team. We knew they weren’t going to give up. They’re a great program. They’re ranked sixth in the country. They weren’t going to lay over and die. I’m proud of our resilience. When they scored points, we put our shoulders back and were ready to score points again.”
The Jennies ultimately pulled ahead for good through a run that included a kill from freshman outside hitter Emma Siron, two kills from redshirt senior outside hitter Sydney Lierz, a service ace from Siron and three St. Cloud State attack errors.
UCM led through almost the entire third set, but did build a large gap until the back portion of the game.
“I think the biggest thing for me I worried about was sometimes we get into a couple of ruts,” Central Missouri redshirt senior setter Olivia Olson said. “We’re a very emotional team. Our highs are super high, and sometimes our lows can be excessively low. I think my biggest role tonight, besides setting, was keeping those lows not so low. They’re a great team. The second team was tight. The third game was tight. Even the first set, they had some really great plays and some really great rallies.”
The Jennies finished the match with a .299 attack percentage, anchored by .414 from Nix.
Nix had a team-high 15 kills on 29 attempts while also adding four blocks. SIron also boosted the attack success, logging seven kills on 14 attempts.
Lierz and freshman middle blocker Elinor Engel each logged eight kills. Olson had a team-high 31 assists.
Defensively, Lierz had 11 digs to go along with nine from Winkelmann and six from junior Arley Anderson.
“Across the board, it was very even,” Nix said. “I don’t think there was one specific area where we stood out or were dipping from. You can tell, when we play as a unit it’s night and day. I think that second set, we kind of lost our confidence a little bit. We were playing tight and you could tell. Once we were playing loose and feeling a little bit of a run, we were just fine.”
Central Missouri advances to meet top-seeded Concordia - St. Paul in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30.
Joe Andrews can be reached at 660-747-8123.