MLC survives long 1st set in sweep

NEW ULM – With a first set that included 14 ties and seven lead changes, Martin Luther College had to fight extra hard just to keep its perfect conference record intact.

MLC’s conference mark indeed remained unblemished as it muscled its way past North Central University 32-30, 25-16, 25-14 in an Upper Midwest Athletic Conference volleyball match on Wednesday.

The Knights (9-12, 4-0 UMAC) nearly let their 10 hitting errors in the first set cost them as the Rams came back from a six-point deficit in the middle stretch of the frame to make things interesting.

“North Central does a very good job of digging – they’re a very, very scrappy team,” MLC coach Rebecca Cox said. “Last year when we played them the same thing happened – we got out to a big lead and they came back and just battled us super tough. They keep putting it up there and when you make a lot of errors, they take advantage of it.

“So that first set unfortunately was exactly what I was afraid of happening in this match.”

The Rams (7-11, 1-3) pushed the Knights and tied the first set 16-16 at the end of a 6-0 run. Freshman middle Ruth Buchholz brought the Knights to set point 24-22 after two-straight kills, but a hitting error and kill by the Rams’ Emma Middendorf tied it to force extra points.

After a few back-and-forths, MLC finally got over the hump after a kill by junior middle Rylee Weisensel spurred on a service ace by senior libero Emily Neeb and an opposing attack error to give it the set 32-30.

In Set 2, the Knights cut back their hitting errors from 10 to two in helping prevent another frame from getting out of hand. They ended up winning the set 25-16 after finishing on a 6-3 run.

From there, the Knights coasted to the sweep, led by junior outside Jade St. Germaine’s 15 kills on the night.

Fellow outside hitter Kira Grev had nine kills and 15 digs, while Neeb had a match-high 18 digs.

Weisensel had a big night with nine kills, including six in the first set in helping MLC stay afloat.

“We have been talking all season about making better use of our middles,” Cox said. “We spent a lot of time working on timing last night and I think that definitely paid off.

“It was good, we need to keep those middles involved – you have to have the middles live to be able to free the block for the outside and the right side because if they don’t believe that we’re going to set the middle, then they always go to the outside. We’ve got to hold the middle and Rylee did a really nice job.”

Junior setter Heidi Moldenhauer had 21 set assists and two service aces, while freshman Emily Byhardt had 17 set assists.

MLC plays in a triangular hosted by St. Scholastica and also including Hamline on Saturday in Duluth.

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