by Rick Kindhart, MSU
Missouri State rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the MVC Volleyball Tournament quarterfinals here Thursday night, only to come up just short against sixth-seeded Loyola in a five-set thriller, 22-25, 17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 11-15.
The Bears (15-7) were led by Brooklyn Cink with 18 kills and 14 digs, while Amelia Flynn contributed 16 kills on a match-high 66 swings with 17 digs. It marked Cink’s 15th double-double of the season and Flynn’s 14th for the two All-MVC first-teamers.
The third-seeded Bears also got 46 digs from Teagan Polcovich, an MVC Tournament record and highest dig total in the NCAA this season. She also tied the Missouri State school record, also achieved by Cara Hackmann in 2009, and came up two digs shy of the all-time MVC overall digs record.
Loyola (10-7) was led by Taylor Venuto’s 18 kills and 8 blocks with Sarah Murczek contributing 12 kills and 22 digs for the Ramblers who advance to play Northern Iowa in the semifinals Friday.
“I’m really proud of the team,” said first-year Bears head coach Steven McRoberts. “It’s not the way we wanted to go out, but we showed the same heart and fight that we’ve shown all season. I’m grateful that I get the opportunity to coach such wonderful people. We will grow from this season and come out hungry and better this coming fall.”
After dropping the first two sets, the Bears got a foot hold in the third and fourth as the Bears hit .243 with 14 kills to stay alive in the third and .250 with 17 kills in the fourth to tie it.
MSU broke up a 12-12 tie in the third set with a 5-1 run to push ahead by four. The Ramblers would get no closer than 22-20 the rest of the period with Cink’s back-to-back kills late in the set putting things on ice for the Bears and keeping them alive.
In the fourth, an early 4-0 run by MSU gave the Bears a 7-2 advantage out of the gates. Missouri State kept its foot on the gas and eventually pulled ahead 14-6 – its biggest lead of the match – after a Loyola service error. The Ramblers cut their deficit in half at 14-10 and went to Murczek and Watson to make it 16-14 before Cink connected on back-to-back kills to give MSU some breathing room.
Down the stretch in the fourth, Loyola got within 21-19, 22-20 and 23-21 but a kill by Azyah Green gave the Bears a 24-21 lead before a Loyola attack error ended the set, 25-21, tying things up at two sets apiece.
In the decisive fifth, the teams were tied six times and alternated points from 4-4 until it was 9-9 on a kill by Loyola’s Ellie Van Grinsven. Back-to-back MSU attack errors gave Loyola an 11-9 lead before Flynn calmed the waters to get MSU within 11-10 and later, a block from Reagan Casey and Lindsay Lahr got MSU within 13-11. But clutch kills from Murczek and Venuto gave the Ramblers the separation they needed at 14-11, and Loyola closed out the match on the next point with a block from Venuto and Watson to eliminate the Bears from the tournament.
For the match, Missouri State hit .158 with 61 kills on 203 swings. The Bears’ defense also racked up 99 digs and 9.0 blocks.
Loyola accounted for 68 kills on 204 attempts (.211) with an impressive 14.0 blocks and also 99 digs.
In the opening set, Loyola used a key 7-1 run to erase an early Bears lead and push ahead by as many as six. Missouri State battled back with kills from Flynn and Casey to tie it up, 19-19, and took the lead briefly at 20-19. But the Ramblers ended the set on a 6-2 swing as Murczek’s fourth kill of the set ended it, 25-22, for Loyola.
Loyola kept the pressure on in the second, utilizing a solid net presence to keep the Bears frustrated with 4 blocks in the set. The Bears led 5-4 early, but the Ramblers responded with a 7-1 run to lead 11-6. Kills by Alyssa Doucette and Green got the Bears back within four on two occasions, but the Loyola squad seemed to get every bounce the rest of the set. Loyola led by as many as nine and finished things off, 25-17.