WEST PLAINS, Mo. — The Mineral Area College volleyball team made a confident initial stride toward pulling a first-round upset on Thursday in its debut appearance at the NJCAA Division I National Tournament.
The 12th-seeded Lady Cardinals limited their mistakes while playing active defense to capture game one against No. 5 Southern Idaho, but would trail throughout each of the next three stanzas.
The Golden Eagles seized control behind the persistent blocking of a lineup that featured three players standing 6-feet-1 or taller, and advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 23-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17 victory.
Middle hitter Beth Carey pounded 16 kills and Emily Ottinger added 11 more for Southern Idaho (23-10), which netted the first three points of game two, and surged ahead 4-0 in games three and four.
Sophomore outside hitter Hilary Trevino paced the Lady Cardinals with 11 kills and middle Meghan Dohogne knocked down nine. Setter Marija Jovanovic compiled 28 assists and libero Brooke Williams posted 15 digs.
The service line factored heavily in an opening game that contained 15 ties and saw neither squad hold a lead greater than two. The fourth missed serve from the Golden Eagles occurred at game point.
The Lady Cardinals countered an 11-9 deficit with a 4-0 spurt, including a stuff-block by freshman Jami Jackson. They regained momentum during an impressive rally moments later.
Katarina Sretenovic and Dohogne each rejected spikes after Williams neatly brought up two stinging attacks, and Jovanovic alertly found an opening on a two-handed redirection for an even 15-15 score.
Carey crushed a second swing as Southern Idaho restored a 21-19 edge, but the Golden Eagles mishandled two floating serves from Jovanovic. MAC forged ahead to stay at 23-22 on a quick transition to Sretenovic.
“We played hard and didn’t make many mistakes in the first game,” Mineral Area coach Tim Copeland said. “We kept moving. When balls were coming over the net, we dug them up and were able to force the issue.”
Numerous passes failed to connect in game two for the Lady Cardinals, who played other free balls across while trying to avoid touching the net. Southern Idaho rapidly built a 15-7 advantage after three consecutive serves by libero Melissa Marsing were not returned.
Trevino smashed two kills and Sretenovic dealt two aces as Mineral Area erased an 8-3 deficit with five straight points in game three. Williams raced forward from the net to dig a stuffed attack, and the victorious effort kept the Lady Cardinals within 20-19.
Carey answered with a line kill from the right side, and the Golden Eagles notched three of their next four points on two mistimed swings following back-sets, plus a clinching four-hit violation.
“When you’re playing teams of this caliber, everybody is great,” Copeland said. “You can’t give away four or five points and expect to fight all the way back. We made too many mental mistakes in the second and third games.”
Powerful kills from Keani Passi and Ottinger sparked Southern Idaho to a favorable start in game four, and its leading margin peaked at 18-11 on a stuff-block by Taylor Wilkinson.
Mineral Area countered with three kills from sophomore Bailey Layman and two more from freshman Aleksandra Popovic down the stretch, but could not draw closer than a 19-16 spread.
“They had two big girls in the middle who were hitting over people, and we constantly had to make adjustments against them.” Copeland said, “I tried substituting people who could bring a little more energy.”
Mineral Area (33-6) now hopes to extend its tournament run to Saturday with an appearance in the 9th-place match. The first obstacle in that path awaits today at noon against No. 13 Wallace State of Hanceville, Ala.
Southern Idaho was later defeated by San Jacinto (Texas) in three games, as each of the top four seeds reached the semifinal round. Unbeaten Blinn College (36-0) survived a five-game scrap against No. 8 Eastern Arizona.