SIOUX CITY – After dropping their first two matches of the NAIA Volleyball Championship, the Morningside women’s volleyball team salvaged a win by defeating Embry-Riddle 25-20, 27-25, 12-25, 25-20 in their final match of pool play at the Tyson Events Center here Thursday.
The Mustangs had to overcome some potentially serious injury problems in the third set, too.
“We had a little bit of an issue in set three,” said Morningside coach Beth Donnelly. “When your best outside (hitter) goes down, you kind of panic a little bit. Krista Zenk, man, she stuck it out. I think every time she swung, there were some tears in her eyes. We might have a broken hand and that might be the first time I’ve ever seen a kid finish a match on a broken hitting hand.”
Broken or not, Zenk battled through pain and finished with 14 kills and 15 digs for the Mustangs.
“She’s got a great high contact,” said Donnelly on Zenk. “She cuts the ball really well. She sees the court.”
The loud Morningside crowd cheering on the Mustangs may have helped a bit too.
“Morningside does a great job,” said Donnelly. “We host the nationals for women’s basketball as well. They just do a phenomenal job of bringing the community together and getting the Mustangs in the stands. We’ve got a great following. They could have easily given up on us halfway through the season, but they didn’t. They show up every day just like we do to practice.”
Morningside trailed 8-2 in the first set, but took the lead for good at 11-10. The Mustangs then trailed 17-13 and 22-19 in the second set, but Morningside took the lead for good on an Embry-Riddle error at 26-25 and won on a Zenk kill assisted by Kayla Harris.
“That shows the maturity level, that we’ve grown over the season,” said Donnelly. “At the beginning of the year we were losing in three sets to Briar Cliff. Our backs were against the wall that night and we folded. We were up against the wall last night and tonight and we did not fold. We kept competing and getting after it. For a bunch of freshman and sophomores, there were only three juniors on the court for quite a long time, I’m really excited to get started in this offseason already.”
After losing set three, Morningside took an early lead at 4-3 in set four and led the rest of the way. Fittingly, the match ended with a Zenk dig that led to an Emma Gerber kill off an assist from Callie Alberico.
Gerber finished with 21 kills for Morningside.
“She’s playing like I knew she could,” said Donnelly. “She really struggled that first night against Park. She rallied and pulled it together last night and led us in kills, and she did it again (tonight). She’s doing good stuff.”
Alberico dished out 44 assists for the Mustangs and added 14 digs. Merrin Van Velzen recorded 21 digs and Kayla Harris added 14.
Caylee Robalin, the Cal Pac Player of the Year, finished with 24 kills and 21 digs for Embry-Riddle (28-9). Audrey Baldwin dished out 43 assists and added 13 digs. Erin Clark notched 22 digs and Kat Yung tallied 16.
The Mustangs end the season at 14-16.
“I really hate looking at that record,” said Donnelly. “I think we’re the only team here that could potentially be ranked with a losing record. We’re definitely not what our record places us at. Hopefully we showed that tonight. I do believe we belong here whether we’re the host bid or not. That win tonight proved it, and if not, our competitive match against Westmont last night did.”
Donnelly is excited for her young team to grow going into next season.]
“I’m really excited for this group,” said Donnelly. “We don’t lose anybody. With our relentlessness out there, there were rallies that were probably a minute long, and that just doesn’t happen in NAIA. So I’m really proud. We’re going to fine tune some things. We need to get a little bit more depth. We’ve got some recruits coming in next year that will help with that. Our offseason begins January first and we’re excited for it.”