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Second tournament loss ends Mineral Area season

Mineral Area middle hitter Amiyah Saxton tips down an overpass as New Mexico setter Tiana de Lima Nunes (6) covers the net during a consolation bracket match in the NJCAA Division I volleyball tournament on Thursday morning in Hutchinson, Kan. (Kristy Ehart,


HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Two lethargic and error-plagued games on Thursday morning greatly diminished the chances for Mineral Area to extend its volleyball season.

For the first time in five the NJCAA Division I national tournament appearances, the 15th-seeded Cardinals were unable to stick around until the final day.

No. 10 New Mexico officially posted a favorable 63-37 disparity in kills, and topped Mineral Area 25-14, 25-10, 23-25, 25-21 in the consolation bracket at Hutchinson Sports Arena.

Star attacker Iva Popovic compiled 21 kills, 23 digs and three blocks as the Thunderbirds dominated the first hour while advancing to face Casper (Wyo.) on Friday.

The Cardinals rallied to force a decisive fifth set before falling to second-seeded Northeastern in the opening round, and were temporarily on course to go the maximum yet again.

Giovanna Mye broke the 13th tie of game four by spiking off the block for a 21-20 lead. New Mexico (30-7) answered with a clinching 5-0 scoring push.

Gaby Arias registered two crucial kills — the first ending a superb rally — and shared a double block before a MAC hitting error concluded the match.

Arias finished with 16 kills, seven digs and three service aces for the Thunderbirds, who received an at-large bid into the tournament. Polianna Hernandez added 10 kills with four blocks, and Nickilah Whatley bolstered a balanced attack with nine kills and four blocks in the victory.

The final margin in hitting percentage showed New Mexico at .291 and Mineral Area at .119 overall. All-region outsides Mariana de Carvalho and Vitoria Campos remained in negative territory for MAC until game four.

Mineral Area (22-11) was ignited by freshman middle Amiyah Saxton, who saw her first action in game three, and ultimately equaled Campos for the team lead with eight efficient kills on 10 attempts.

Campos heated up with two straight kills, and aces by libero Summer Meyer and de Carvalho helped restore a 19-13 advantage in game three.

The Thunderbirds fought off four set points after Saxton sent down a middle swing at 24-19, but Mye delivered a clutch kill to prolong the contest.

Kyndal Dodd provided five blocks overall, including a solo that gave the Cardinals a 14-12 edge in the fourth. But consecutive digs by Popovic enabled Arias and Whatley to respond at the net.

Mineral Area setter Alandry Below (5) tries to block an attack by New Mexico outside hitter Gaby Arias (8) during a consolation bracket match in the NJCAA Division I volleyball tournament on Thursday morning in Hutchinson, Kan. (Kristy Ehart.

Setter Alandry Below once again highlighted the digs category with 14 while making 27 assists. Meyer picked up 10 digs plus two aces while also playing her final match for Mineral Area.

Payton Roberts chipped in five kills, exclusively within the first two games, but the Cardinals had no answers as a blocking unit during that span against the diverse New Mexico offense.

The Thunderbirds hammered away at a reeling defense to lead 21-9 in the opening stanza despite losing hitter Olivia Swipiarski early to an ankle injury.

Popodic and Whatley each landed three attacks within the first 25 points overall, and the Cardinals yielded consecutive aces to Karielys Maldonado as the set concluded.

Mineral Area eventually squared the overall block total at 10 apiece, including four by Saxton, but not before experiencing a dismal stretch of game two.

Popovic adjusted to a mistimed leap as her finesse shot capped a 5-0 spurt at 13-5. New Mexico then reeled off six in a row for a 19-6 separation.

Maldonado totaled six kills, six blocks and four aces while Addison Carillo amassed 15 digs for the Thunderbirds. Taina de Lima Nunes and Sude Omerickoglu dished out 28 and 25 assists, respectively.

Mye salvaged six kills for the Cardinals, whose highest national finish remains with the 2017 squad in sixth place. De Carvalho negated five kills with eight errors while making nine digs.

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