HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Every lapse in execution or missed scoring chance was magnified as the Mineral Area volleyball team faced a powerhouse Southern Idaho program on Thursday night.
The Lady Cardinals are now faced with the challenge of rebounding from a loss for the first time this season after a dazzling, school-record win streak of 35 was snapped in straight sets.
Jasmyn Keohohina-Malina recorded 11 kills on 24 attacks, and the third-seeded Golden Eagles scored a 25-23, 25-18, 25-21 triumph in the quarterfinal round of the NJCAA Tournament.
No. 6 seed Mineral Area had already secured its highest national result ever with a first-round triumph earlier in the day, and tried to embrace the perceived underdog role in the nightcap.
But the task was tall against an opponent that placed five 6-footers on the court at any given moment, and has 11 all-time national titles on its resume.
The Lady Cardinals dropped just five sets all season prior to the tournament, but battled inconsistency against Southern Idaho that had rarely appeared before.
“They deserved to win. We didn’t play well enough to beat them,” Mineral Area head coach Tim Copeland said. “It was a situation where we didn’t come to play for 25 points. We would look good for spurts of 10 or 12 points, and you can’t go through half of a match like that and expect good teams to give you points.”
Cailey Bracken totaled 10 kills and nine digs for Mineral Area (35-1), which will face No. 2 seed Iowa Western on Friday for a berth in the fifth-place contest.
Shiloh Perales – one of three Southern Idaho (30-3) starters recruited from Hawaii – helped stake her team to a 15-11 advantage in game two by knocking down two middle kills.
Libero Sacha Legros made two excellent digs to transition into eventual spikes for Keohohina-Malina, and was nearly flawless while bringing up 16 for the match.
The margin reached 21-16 following a promising rally for Mineral Area that went awry as a free ball was immediately cleared beyond the back line.
Legros landed an subsequent ace on late reaction that proved crucial. The Lady Cardinals used kills from Melissa Avendano and Raylyn Dodd to fight off three game points after trailing 24-20.
Airi Miyabi pounded the winning kill out of timeout for the Golden Eagles, who never looked back after erasing an early four-point deficit in game two.
Jane Kickham finished with a modest number of six kills on 31 attacks in defeat, but connected from opposite sides as Mineral Area aimed to even the match.
Bracken hammered an overpass to the floor after Avendano scored from the left side, but a 10-6 lead evaporated quickly after Southern Idaho recorded three straight kills without first being forced to dig something from the MAC side.
The Lady Cardinals shanked two serve receptions down the stretch of the middle game, and were stuffed twice as hitters were forced to attack without forward momentum.
The Golden Eagles tallied eight of the last 10 points to establish a two-set lead, then surged ahead 9-4 in game three.
“They have fast hitters, big hitters and good athletes,” Copeland said. “They forced us to rise up to their level, and we couldn’t tonight. We were 35-0 before the loss here. We’ll still finish within the top eight in the nation no matter what, so that’s an accomplishment.”
A series of unforced errors between the teams weighed more heavily against MAC. Peleras terminated at 16-11 despite a superb effort as Bracken crashed hard to the surface while saving a ball.
Bracken added two late kills while facing match point before Southern Idaho sealed the outcome. The Golden Eagles will face Tyler (Texas) on Friday in a national semifinal.
Avendano recorded eight kills and Anica Popadic equaled Dodd with seven for Mineral Area. Ainslee Finch and Shelby Meyer each made 12 digs, and Pam Zuluaga dished out 32 assists.