KEARNEY, Neb. — The Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team, making the program’s first trip to postseason competition since the school joined NCAA Division II 20 years ago, advanced to Saturday’s Southwest Regional semifinals where the Zias were eliminated by top-ranked and unbeaten host Nebraska-Kearney 30-20, 30-18, 30-26 before 2,743 fans.
Fifth-seeded ENMU (25-9) won its first-round match on Friday, edging fourth seed Mesa State 30-24, 30-27, 28-30, 30-32, 15-13.
Nebraska-Kearney (38-0), which has lost only three games all season and none on its homecourt, advanced to Sunday’s 2 p.m. (MST) championship match against Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival Fort Hays State. The winner goes to the Elite Eight, scheduled for Dec. 2-4.
“I thought we played really well,” ENMU coach Mike Maguire said of the weekend. “The kids played with a lot of heart out there, and we made a nice showing.”
The Zias trailed most of the way against UNK, but pushed the Lopers in the third game. ENMU led twice by a point early, then closed a six-point deficit to 27-25 on a kill by senior Kelley McGinty, who led the team for the match with 11 kills.
The Zias stayed alive at 29-26 on a kill by junior Lindsay Schiely, but Kearney’s Erin Gudmundson closed it out with a kill.
“Kelley made a nice showing,” Maguire said. “I thought (libero) Jessica Weeks and (setter) Amber McCarthy also played well.”
Gudmundson led four Lopers in double figures in kills with 12, while Erin Arnold added 15 kills and 17 digs.
“We were severely outsized, but the kids played well,” Maguire said. “I don’t think we were clicking on all cylinders, or it might have been a closer match.”
Schiely led the Zias against Mesa State with a season-high 25 kills while committing just one attack error. She also was in on a team-high seven blocks.
The Zias were within two points of closing out the match in three games (28-27), and saw a 29-26 lead slip away in Game 4 when the Mavericks scored six of the final seven points.
Mesa State (22-10) then opened leads of 8-5 and 10-8 in the fifth, but ENMU pulled even 11-11 on a kill by senior Anna Bellum, who had 16 kills and 16 digs for the match. Schiely then converted two kills for a 13-11 lead, and Bellum’s kill closed out the match.
“It was a match that could’ve gone either way,” Maguire said. “I thought we were going to finish it in three, but then they kind of got the momentum.”