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Tigers' upset bid falls short

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

It was a match that could have made a statement for the rest of the season.

Kurt Kohler knew that. Sara Hewson knew it, as well as the rest of the Fort Hays State University volleyball team.

But the Tiger coach watched as unforced errors -- typical of many matches this season -- kept the Tigers from an MIAA upset of No. 11 ranked Washburn University on Tuesday night at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

The Ichabods rallied to win the match, 26-28, 25-13, 25-19, 25-23.

"We fought hard, even when we were in our little valleys," Hewson said. "We still fought hard. There's no regrets about the effort tonight."

Hewson, a junior, stepped up for the Tigers when Washburn focused its defense on junior Taylor Mares and sophomore Mallory Flagor.

She finished with 13 kills and had 17 digs.

"Hewson was a huge factor tonight," Washburn coach Chris Herron said. "We just couldn't stop her. But I thought we did a decent job on their right-sides. That was key for us. We had to slow them down because they're a huge part of their offense -- Mares and Flagor. It was key for us in practice this week and in preparation to slow those two kids down. Then Hewson went crazy on us."

Hewson tied with Mares for the team lead with 13 kills. But the Tigers hit just .115 as a team and had five service errors and four return errors -- most at crucial points in the match.

"That's the thing all season long," Kohler said. "We've got a ton of unforced errors that end up hurting us. I really think that was the difference. You look at the stats, and it's almost even across the board other than we had nine more unforced errors than they did. That really hurts you."

FHSU (12-16 overall, 3-11 MIAA) stayed strong in the first match. The Tigers led 22-18, only to see Washburn (26-4, 11-1) rally. The Ichabods had a chance to win the game, but the Tigers battled, eventually taking the two-point win.

"It was just an intense match through the whole thing," Hewson said. "Both teams were aggressive every single ball. You just have to go for everything. It was fun."

But the Tigers lacked fire in the second game, and Washburn started with a 6-1 lead and never looked back.

"I thought we came out, and we knew if we outworked that team, we could beat them," Kohler said. "That first set, I really thought we outworked them. We made a couple errors late in the game that let them kind of catch up. But that's a great team we were playing. To get that first set off of them in the fashion we did was pretty impressive.

"Coming out in the second one, that was a bad performance. I think we kind of let up. I don't know if we were tired or what it was. We just didn't play with the same passion and drive we had in the first set. I just felt like we really let down a lot in the second set."

Washburn trailed 4-2 in Game 3 before two kills by freshman Leanna Willer and one by junior Marissa Cox gave the Ichabods a 5-4 edge. Kills by sophomore Korie Thompson with the score tied at 11 helped Washburn take control later.

Cox, who finished with 15 kills to pace Washburn, led the way late in Game 4, and a service error and a hitting error by FHSU provided the momentum needed for Washburn to seal the win.

"The MIAA is crazy," Herron said. "I have to be honest: This match is one that has been on my mind maybe since the beginning of the season. I know how we usually come out here and play. ... And Hays, I think, is good. I think he's doing a good job. I like his players, and he's got a nice team. I think they're just trying to overcome the very beginning of their season. That beginning of the season kind of chomped them down a little bit, and now they're pulling themselves out of it."

It was the fourth loss in a row for FHSU after the team had won six in a row.

"I thought our kids played well," Kohler said. "Washburn is a team that's pretty used to dominating teams. And when you really challenge them, it forces those kids to play. I thought the Washburn players stepped up when they needed to and got the job done when they needed to."

The Tigers will travel to Friends University in Wichita on Thursday.