Key win for Tiger volleyball
Published on -10/10/2012, 10:28 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
The Fort Hays State University volleyball returned virtually its entire starting lineup from last season's 17-16 squad. All-conference libero Tracie Hileman was the lone player who graduated.
In addition to players being a year older, senior setter Kayla Zoglman has noticed other changes, especially with confidence and the mental game.
Those improvements helped Fort Hays earn a key 3-1 home victory against Missouri Western State University on Tuesday at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
The Tigers won 25-21, 16-25, 30-28 and 25-21. The Tigers saved four set points in the third set. It was the longest set for Fort Hays this year.
"I also think that we have matured a lot and we are more confident in each other," Zoglman said. "We know each other's tendencies, we know each other's weaknesses."
Last year, the Tigers lost multiple close matches and had trouble finishing sets. One of the main focuses for this season was finishing.
"We get to point 20, and we fall apart last year," Zoglman said. "We would beat most teams to point 20 and then we fall apart, and lose 25-23, which is probably the worst loss ever. It's a good feeling to be able to finish."
Fort Hays improved to 18-6, 4-3 MIAA, while Missouri Western dropped to 12-9, 3-5 MIAA.
"We are playing to our potential, for sure," junior outside hitter Madison Schwartz, who led the team with 17 kills, said. "... I am just so proud of the girls. We have come so far together and we have grown."
The Tigers have already exceeded last year's win total and moved above .500 in league play for the first time since joining the conference seven-plus years ago.
The Tigers improved to 12-2 since a bad home loss to University of Nebraska-Kearney on Sept. 11.
"That kind of changed our attitude continuing through the season that we've really got to pick our intensity up," fourth-year coach Kurt Kohler said. "Even though tonight wasn't our best performance, we did some great things. I think this program is on the right track."
FHSU has won six in a row following a close home defeat to Washburn University, then ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, on Sept. 28.
"When we played Washburn, we came out with fire and intensity and we showed what we can do," Zoglman said. "I think for some of us, we really didn't know that we could really play like that, and now we know what we can do, and we need to do that every game. Now, we are just doing what we are capable of."
Schwartz, a two-time all-MIAA honorable mention selection, had struggled offensively all season and entered Tuesday averaging 2.05 kills per set and hitting .117. Against Missouri Western, she scored off a variety of angles and placement shots, a strength throughout her career.
She hit .282, her best percentage against a NCAA team this season (min. 10 attempts). The 17 kills were her highest since she collected 18 against Southwest Baptist on Nov. 5, 2011. After the match, Kohler showed Schwartz the stat sheet as she walked out of the interview room, offered a big smile and said, "That's what I am talking about."
"She played very focused tonight, and that's something that we don't always see from some of our players," Kohler said. "It was a great night for her. She is a pretty smart player and she has been around the game enough that she can do some different things with balls and still control them."
The match lasted 1 hour, 55 minutes, long for a four-set match and featured multiple back-and-forth rallies. The Tigers dug 74 balls, their second-most in a match this season, including a career-high 24 from Zoglman.
"We knew that Missouri Western sets a ton of balls to their right side," Kohler said. "Those kids almost exclusively hit cross court, so we knew our right sides were going to be getting a lot of balls tonight. Kayla did a great job picking them up. Some of those swings are pretty tough to dig."
After FHSU struggled through the second set, the Tigers led 19-15, but Missouri Western, led by 13 kills from Sarah Faubel, came back to tie at 20.
The Griffons took a 24-23 lead, but sophomore Sara Hewson and junior Jenna Ulrich had a block. Fort Hays went on to save three more set points, including one on an angle kill from Schwartz. FHSU won the set on back-to-back hitting errors from the Griffons.
"A game that goes 30-28, I don't know if I would have the confidence two or three years to want to get into a situation like that," Kohler said. "This year, I do think mentally, we are a little stronger. We can focus through those last couple of points and play smart enough."