CASPER, Wyo. – A stellar postseason surge by the Mineral Area volleyball program lost steam just short of achieving a new pinnacle on the national level Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Cardinals instead equaled their only previous NJCAA Division I tournament appearance with a 10th-place result after missing a chance to close out Tyler (Texas) in the fourth set.
Bruna Paixio pounded 23 kills and Lisa Casimie knocked down 20 more as the Apaches seized command during the latter stages for a 25-22, 26-28, 16-25, 25-22, 15-4 triumph.
Tyler recorded a 9-3 advantage in kills during the decisive fifth game, and jumped ahead 7-1 as errant passes and sets prevented MAC from cleanly attacking late.
Mineral Area earlier capitalized on a series of miscues by its opponent, and was sparked by blocks from sophomores Taylor Covington and Jessica Lindsey to grab a 5-1 lead in game four.
The Apaches regrouped with focused offense, and snapped a 10-10 tie by taking a dazzling rally. Their lead swelled eventually swelled to 23-17 as Paixio notched seven kills during the stanza.
Middle hitter Anica Popadic needed only 25 attacks to smash 15 kills for the Lady Cardinals. She notched eight blocks overall, including two big solos, as her squad led throughout game three.
MAC freshmen Cailey Bracken and Jane Kickham also had 15 kills each while Covington added nine. Pam Zuluaga tallied 51 digs and a team-high 11 digs.
Popadic and Lindsey combined on a stuff to give Mineral Area a 22-20 lead during an intense stretch of game two. Tyler managed to turn back three separate set points, however.
Bracken spiked successfully to break ties at 23 and 24, but the Apaches answered right back on power from Halee Brewer and a placement shot by Brittany Hohlt.
Kickham hit off an outside blocker for a 27-26 edge, then neatly guided the second touch over the net to level the contest at one game each after Zuluaga covered a soft Tyler attack from the 10-foot line.
The Lady Cardinals would lament a squandered 10-2 lead in game one after Popadic provided two kills and two blocks within her initial rotation across the front.
Paixio terminated three straight exchanges to create a 17-17 deadlock, then stepped back to serve an ace as the Apaches moved ahead 21-19.
Rachel Reeve dished out 62 assists and Allie Kemp made 13 digs for Tyler (21-15).
Mineral Area (25-9) entered the season with four sophomores among a roster of 13, but immediately showed real potential with a 12-0 start.
After falling three times to MSU-West Plains, which was ruled ineligible for postseason action, the Lady Cards topped rival Jefferson in the Region 16 final and swept John A. Logan in a district playoff.
They reached the final day in Wyoming by eliminating Hill College and Wallace State on Friday. Miami-Dade handed MAC a first-round defeat Thursday on its way to the national title.
Mineral Area left the Casper Events Center three spots better than original No. 13 seed, and is poised to return five freshmen next year who were permanent fixtures in the lineup.
Lindsey, who came back from offseason knee surgery, chipped in six blocks and matched MAC libero Hunter Vargo with 10 digs against Tyler.