Volleyball can be more of a mental games than physical at times.

That’s something the Fort Hays State University squad has learned the hard way this year.

Case in point: Thursday night’s match against No. 20 Central Missouri.

The Tigers battled to win the first set 25-21 before errors proved costly as the Jennies won the next three (25-15, 25-20, 25-12) to take the match at Gross Memorial Coliseum.

“I think our thing is making sure that if they get a point, then we get a kill right after it,” said junior Sydney Dixon. “I think we kill ourselves when we let other teams go on runs. We have to make sure we come back the next point, pass, set the ball and get the kill and move on. I think we did that the first set tonight, responding to their kills with one of our own.”

Interim head coach Brandi Fairbank sees the same thing, too.

“There is not a team in this conference that we cannot beat based on their talent,” she said. “If it was just talent against talent, we can play it. We have some young ones that just get down on themselves after an error. … It’s frustrating. They’re not very mentally tough at this point, and they let one mistake turn into two or three before we finally turn it around and do something different. Other teams, they allow only one point, two at the most. We have to find a way to be that team, to be a little smarter volleyball team and see what’s working quicker.”

The Tigers (9-13 overall, 1-7 MIAA) tied the first set at 16 apiece with a kill by Dixon, and that sparked a 9-5 run to seal the win against the nationally ranked Jennies.

“It was a great first set, the best volleyball they’ve played in several weeks,” Fairbank said. “They came out with energy and were ready to fight. They weren’t going to let someone walk over them. It didn’t go that way for the whole match, but that first set was great for them.”

After a kill by sophomore Magan Alexander, the Tigers had a 3-1 advantage in the second set. But Central Missouri (16-4, 7-1) tied the game with two straight points, then slowly distanced itself for the 10-point win.

The same thing happened in the third set. A kill by Dixon made it 3-1 in favor of FHSU before the Jennies came back. And with the score tied 20-all, a kill followed by a service ace gave UCM a 22-20 lead that started a run of five straight points to end the set.

“It’s just making sure we can put it all together,” Dixon said. “Every game, we learn something different. The first set tonight, we put everything we’ve learned thus far together. We continue learning new things about our team and adjusting to it.”

The Jennies took control early in the fourth set and rolled to the victory.

“For us being a young team, we rely so much on our energy,” Fairbank said. “You can see that. When our energy is great and we’re cheering and having fun, everything is great. But once one error happens, it’s like, ‘Oh, no.’ They get the deer in the headlights look. They start playing a little safe, a little scared instead of playing to win, to put the ball down. They tip the ball over, roll the ball over and play it safe. Other teams will use that. They’ll see the girls who are dropping their heads, and they’ll pick on them. The other teams in our conference are smart. They’re good teams. We have to find a way to minimize our errors and the mental side of it.”

Alexander led the Tigers with 14 kills, and Dixon finished with 12. Senior Callie Christensen added three kills, two solo blocks and four assisted blocks.

Junior Azlyn Cassaday had a team-high 14 digs, and freshman Taylor White added 12. Freshman Amirah Bentley had 32 assists.

But Central Missouri hit 0.221 for the match, while FHSU managed only 0.082 hitting at the net.

“We have so much talent on our team, but it’s just making sure we throw it together on our side,” Dixon said. “It’s not really anything another team is doing special. It’s just getting us clicking on all cylinders, especially coming out tomorrow against Lindenwood.”

FHSU hosts Lindenwood for another MIAA contest at 6 p.m. Friday.