SIOUX CITY | Without a senior on its roster, Northwestern has risen to No. 3 in the NAIA volleyball rankings and after a 3-0 victory over Morningside Wednesday faces a Saturday showdown for the Great Plains Athletic Conference lead.
The Red Raiders got a spirited battle from No. 20 Morningside at the Rosen-Verdoorn Sports Center, but emerged with wins of 27-25, 25-18 and 25-23. That sets up a huge match Saturday against defending national champion Hastings in Orange City, Iowa.
Northwestern (26-2) and Hastings (21-1) each have one loss in the GPAC and although each has another match remaining after that one in the regular season, Saturday’s winner grabs the upper hand in the league race.
Morningside (16-11, 8-6) erased an 18-13 deficit with a 10-1 run in the first set, taking a 23-19 lead. The Red Raiders fought back within 23-22 but Morningside scored and faced game point, only to have Northwestern tally the next three and eventually pull out the 27-25 win.
“I thought that first set was key,” Northwestern Coach Kyle Van Den Bosch said. “They had set point and we were able to fend them off and win. That was one of the keys to the match.
“Every match in this conference is going to be good, especially when you get on the road. It doesn’t always click like you liked and Morningside has a great team. They’re a big physical group and I thought tonight our defense won us a lot of points.”
Josie Blankespoor (seven) and A.J. Horstman (six) combined for 13 block assists while Anna Kiel had two solo blocks and two assists.
Northwestern took command midway through the second set, but the third was another close one. It wound up being tied eight times, including 17-17, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20 and 21-21 and 22-22.
Iowa State transfer Kiel had a big kill to give the Red Raiders a 22-21 advantage before a Morningside block deadlocked the score for the final time. Northwestern scored the next two points while a Bryanna Pulling kills pulled the Mustangs within 24-23 before Kiel ended the match with a kill.
Northwestern charted 39 kills and 18 blocks compared to 27 and 12 for the Mustangs.
Freshman Makenzie Fink led the winners with 13 kills, while Lauryn Hilger added nine and Horstman and Kiel seven apiece. Morningside was paced by Krista Zenk, a freshman from Le Mars, Iowa, with 10 kills.
Northwestern’s Lacey Wacker had 31 assists, Horstman 17 digs and Fink 11 digs. Callie Alberico of Morningside finished with 21 assists and Nikki Oberfoell 16 digs.
“This entire season has been so much fun, it’s been so great to be with the girls, we’re all like a family,” Hilger said. “We started off fresh this year, we all found our role and have been supporting each other throughout and we’re all just doing it.
“We have a big match with Hastings on Saturday so this was a good way to fight for every single point and a good lead up to that.”
Morningside’s final two matches of the regular season are at home against College of St. Mary and at Dakota Wesleyan.