Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry Zias freshman outside hitter Veronica Valdez keeps her eyes on the ball following a dig during action Wednesday at Greyhound Arena.
By Mickey Winfield: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Jessie Macknicki led a balanced attack as Eastern New Mexico University turned back in-state rival New Mexico Highlands in five games Wednesday at Greyhound Arena to end a five-match losing streak.
Macknicki, a senior outside hitter from Palmer, Alaska, led the Zias with 19 kills as the Zias won their home opener 30-23, 24-30, 30-20, 28-30, 15-9.
With the match tied at two games each, the home team dominated the fifth and tie-breaking game, building a quick 10-5 lead and taking advantage of six consecutive Highlands hitting errors to win 15-9.
“It feels amazing,” said sophomore outside hitter Caitlin Murphy, who finished with 10 kills. “Because we were in a rut and we really needed this, so it feels amazing to get out of that.”
The Zias (3-7) have won two of three meetings between the teams this season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match, just because this is the third time we’ve played Highlands,” first-year Zias head coach Kim Falkenhagen said. “So it’s a grudge match all the way.”
Highlands scored nine of 11 points to take a 19-12 lead in the first game, but the Zias took advantage of five straight Cowgirl hitting errors to take a 20-19 lead.
The second game was tied 16-16 before Highlands built up a 29-20 lead. The Zias scored four straight points, but it was too late, as the Cowgirls tied the match.
The third game was knotted at 13-13, when the Zias scored 11 of 13 points highlighted by two serving aces by Macknicki and two kills and two blocks by junior outside hitter Vanessa Wilcox. The Zias closed out the third game, taking 10 of the last 12 points, including four kills by Macknicki.
The fourth game followed suit, tied at 20-20 before the Cowgirls jumped out to a 28-22 lead. The Zias scored six of seven points to make it close, but Highlands tied the match once more.
Freshman setter Karen McIntyre of Houston collected 40 assists and Macknicki and junior Nicole Vanderploeg each had 16 digs.
“We did well,” Falkenhagen said. “We’ve been working through some things and they’ve been fighting each game and it’s good to see them fight forward each time.”
“We knew we had to win this one because it’s our gym,” Murphy said. “It’s unacceptable (to lose), we had to show them how it’s done.”
The Zias begin a seven-game road trip Friday at Henderson State in Searcy, Ark.